Musicians Offset the Effects of Aging

It is challenging to have a conversation with noise in the background. For anyone. It is more challenging as we age—even for people with normal hearing.

A research study conducted by scientists at Northwestern University asked the following question:  do musicians who are older adults have an advantage?  Does musical experience offset the effects of age?

 All of the people in the study, aged 45-65, had normal hearing. They  began their musical training before the age of nine. All had consistently  played a musical instrument throughout their lives.

 The study showed that musicians had a greater working memory  capacity. Working memory is like the Google of your mind.  We rely on  working memory like we rely on search engines—to hold and manipulate  information in the mind for a period of time. Working memory keeps us on task. Without it, we get distracted.

What does this have to do with having a conversation in noise?  The two are linked.   When background noise is added, our working memory takes a hit. In musicians (young and older) working memory is better—and so is the ability to understand in noise. 

The study also found that musicians have better auditory temporal acuity—which is the ability to resolve two sounds separated in time. Auditory temporal acuity is linked to speech perception.  Auditory temporal acuity declines with age as well.

So, yes, musicians have an advantage.  This study indicates that lifelong musical training might limit the effects of aging, when it comes to communication.

Before you sign up for piano lessons, what are the implications?

1. More research is needed—but these results underscore the potential benefits of musical training for an aging population.

2.  Musical training transfers to non-musical domains. 

3.  Working memory is an important component of hearing in noise. 

4.  You can improve your working memory through auditory training.  The LACE program targets working memory function. 


Related posts:         Can’t Hear in Noise?  Training can Help.

                                Mindset and Hearing Loss


Photo credit:  © Malajscy |




children who take music lessons

Even 1-5 years of music training is helpful, apparently. See this update:

"Childhood music classes result in better hearing as adults"