Music training improves the ability to understand speech-in-noise in older adults

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Belleville, Sylvie ; Zendel, Benjamin ; West, Greg ; Peretz, Isabelle (2017)

It is well known that hearing abilities decline with age, and one of the most commonly reported hearing difficulties reported in older adults is a reduced ability to understand speech in noisy environments. Older musicians have an enhanced ability to understand speech in noise, and this has been associated with enhanced brain responses related to both speech processing and the deployment of attention, however the causal impact of music lessons in older adults is poorly understood. A sample of older adults was randomly assigned to learn to play piano (Mus), to learn to play a visuo-spatially demanding video-game (Vid), or to serve as a no-contact control (Nocon). After 6 months, the Mus group improved their ability to understand a word presented in loud background noise. This improvement was related to an earlier N100, enhanced P250 (P2/P3) and a reduced N600 (N400). These findings support the idea that music lessons provide a causal benefit to hearing abilities, and that this benefit is due to both enhanced encoding of speech stimuli, and enhanced deployment of attentional mechanisms towards the speech stimuli. Importantly, these findings suggest that music training could be used as a foundation to develop auditory rehabilitation programs for older adults.
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