Lifelong musicians ‘have better hearing’

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Playing a musical instrument throughout your life protects your hearing in old age, a Canadian study suggests.

The study, published in Psychology and Aging, carried out hearing tests on 74 adult musicians and 89 non-musicians.
It found a 70-year-old musician’s hearing was as good as that of a 50-year-old who did not play.
Action on Hearing Loss said all people – including musicians – should try to prevent hearing damage in the first place.

Hearing normally declines as people age. By 60, 10-30% of people have moderate hearing loss. By 80, that goes up to as many as 60%.
Problems are particularly seen in the central auditory processing system, which is associated with understanding speech, especially when there is background noise – often described as the “cocktail party problem”.
Earplugs Previous studies have shown musicians have better hearing than non-players.

But this research, by a team at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, looked at adults of all ages – from 18 to 91 – to see how people were affected as they aged.
Continue reading the main story “Start Quote This advantage widened considerably for musicians as they got older when compared to similar-aged non-musicians”
End Quote Benjamin Zendel, Researcher They carried out hearing tests on 74 amateur and professional musicians (who had played since the age of 16, were still practising and had been given formal music lessons) and 89 non-musicians (who had never played an instrument).

Musicians were significantly better at picking out speech against noise.
The researchers suggest that lifelong musicianship mitigates age-related changes in the brain, probably due to musicians using their auditory systems at a high level on a regular basis.
Benjamin Zendel, who was part of the research team, said: “We found that being a musician may contribute to better hearing in old age by delaying some of the age-related changes in central auditory processing.

“This advantage widened considerably for musicians as they got older when compared to similar-aged non-musicians.”
The head of biomedical research at Action on Hearing Loss, Dr Ralph Holme, said: “Whilst this study suggests that musicians might be more able to cope with the consequences of hearing loss, it is far better to minimise damage in the first place by using appropriate ear protection.

“We have always campaigned for everyone who plays a musical instrument or listens to loud music to wear hearing protection, like earplugs, which minimises the risk of damaging your hearing permanently.”

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