Learning music may offset some of the effects of ageing and improve the listening ability of older generations, a study has found. Years spent playing a musical instrument "fine tunes" the nervous system, said scientists. As a result auditory memory - the ability to remember what is heard - and to distinguish sounds is improved.
"Lifelong musical training appears to confer advantages in at least two important functions known to decline with age - memory and the ability to hear speech in noise," said researcher Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois, US. Previous research has suggested that learning music confers learning advantages on youngsters in the classroom. The scientists carried out tests of memory and speech recognition on 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians aged 45 to 65. All the musicians started learning an instrument at the age of nine or earlier and had continued to play throughout their lives. In the tests they outperformed the non-musician group in auditory memory and sound processing tasks, and were better at detecting speech against background noise. Both groups showed an equal ability in tests of visual memory.
It does not appear that there is evidence that taking up music late in life will help prevent age related hearing loss.