Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Musical training boosts memory and hearing

 Researchers found that musicians are more likely to keep their memories active and also their hearing in tact.

They believe that the training helps your brain be more adaptable to ageing and make adjustments for any decline in the ability to remember or ability to separate speech from background noise.

The findings add further weight to the benefits of musical training which is also associated with greater learning ability in the classroom,

The study co-author Dr Nina Kraus, at Northwestern University, in Chicago, said: "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.

"Difficulty hearing speech in noise is among the most common complaints of older adults, but age-related hearing loss only partially accounts for this impediment that can lead to social isolation and depression.

"It's well known that adults with virtually the same hearing profile can differ dramatically in their ability to hear speech in noise."

To find out why, researchers at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, made 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians, aged 45 to 65, carry out a number of tests for speech in noise, memory and processing ability.

The musicians – who began playing an instrument at age nine or earlier and consistently played an instrument throughout their lives – beat the non-musician group in all tests except one where they showed nearly identical ability.

Doctor Kraus said the experience of extracting meaningful sounds from a complex soundscape – and of remembering sound sequences – enhances the development of auditory skills.

She said: "The neural enhancements we see in musically-trained individuals are not just an amplifying or "volume knob" effect.

"Playing music engages their ability to extract relevant patterns, including the sound of their own instrument, harmonies and rhythms."

Dr Kraus said music training "fine-tunes" the nervous system.

She said: "Sound is the stock in trade of the musician in much the same way that a painter of portraits is keenly attuned to the visual attributes of the paint that will convey his or her subject.

"If the materials that you work with are sound, then it is reasonable to suppose that all of your faculties involved with taking it in, holding it in memory and relating physically to it should be sharpened.

"Music experience bolsters the elements that combat age-related communication problems."

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

Source: The Telegraph

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