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Learning music 'improves listening'
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PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2011 9:08 am 
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Musical training can help prevent a decline in older people's listening ability, researchers have said.

According to a study carried out in the US, learning music can offset some of the effects of ageing, while years spent playing a musical instrument 'fine tunes' the nervous system.

Scientist said musical training improves auditory memory - the ability to remember what is heard - and helps people to distinguish sounds, for instance speech among other noise.

The research backs up a previous study that suggested music training confers learning advantages on youngsters in the classroom

Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois, 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.'

The latest research involved scientists carrying 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.

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

'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.'

The research is published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.

http://www.ageuk.org.uk/


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