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Musical experience and the aging auditory system: implications for cognitive abilities and hearing speech in noise.

Research paper by Alexandra A Parbery-Clark, Dana L DL Strait, Samira S Anderson, Emily E Hittner, Nina N Kraus

Indexed on: 19 May '11Published on: 19 May '11Published in: PloS one



Abstract

Much of our daily communication occurs in the presence of background noise, compromising our ability to hear. While understanding speech in noise is a challenge for everyone, it becomes increasingly difficult as we age. Although aging is generally accompanied by hearing loss, this perceptual decline cannot fully account for the difficulties experienced by older adults for hearing in noise. Decreased cognitive skills concurrent with reduced perceptual acuity are thought to contribute to the difficulty older adults experience understanding speech in noise. Given that musical experience positively impacts speech perception in noise in young adults (ages 18-30), we asked whether musical experience benefits an older cohort of musicians (ages 45-65), potentially offsetting the age-related decline in speech-in-noise perceptual abilities and associated cognitive function (i.e., working memory). Consistent with performance in young adults, older musicians demonstrated enhanced speech-in-noise perception relative to nonmusicians along with greater auditory, but not visual, working memory capacity. By demonstrating that speech-in-noise perception and related cognitive function are enhanced in older musicians, our results imply that musical training may reduce the impact of age-related auditory decline.