EVANSTON, Ill. -- Music training has a lifelong good impact on the aging process, says a new study out of Northwestern University.
Researchers in the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern measured the automatic brain responses of younger and older musicians and nonmusicians to speech sounds. Researchers discovered that older musicians had a distinct neural timing advantage. Researchers concluded that age-related delays in neural timing are not inevitable and can be avoided or offset with musical training.
"The older musicians not only outperformed their older nonmusician counterparts, they encoded the sound stimuli as quickly and accurately as the younger nonmusicians," said neuroscientist Nina Kraus. "This reinforces the idea that how we actively experience sound over the course of our lives has a profound effect on how our nervous system functions," she said.
Kraus, professor of communication sciences in the School of Communication and professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is co-author of "Musical experience offsets age-related delays in neural timing."
The data, with animal data from other research centers, suggest that intensive training even late in life could improve speech processing in older adults and improve their ability to communicate in complex, noisy acoustic environments, said Don Caspary, a researcher on age-related hearing loss at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. "They support the idea that the brain can be trained to overcome, in part, some age-related hearing loss," Caspary added.
Previous studies from Kraus' Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory suggest that musical training also offset losses in memory and difficulties hearing speech in noise -- two common complaints of older adults. The lab has been extensively studying the effects of musical experience on brain plasticity across the life span in normal and clinical populations, and in educational settings.