Wearing insert earphones, participants sat in a soundproof room and completed four auditory tasks that assessed pure tone thresholds (ability to detect sounds that grew increasingly quieter); gap detection (ability to detect a short silent gap in an otherwise continuous sound, which is important for perceiving common speech sounds such as the words that contain "aga" or ata"); mistuned harmonic detection (ability to detect the relationship between different sound frequencies, which is important for separating sounds that are occurring simultaneously in a noisy environment); and speech-in-noise (ability to hear a spoken sentence in the presence of background noise).
Scientists found that being a musician did not offer any advantage in the pure-tone thresholds test, across the age span. However, in the three other auditory tasks mistuned harmonic detection, gap detection and speech-in-noise musicians showed a clear advantage over non-musicians and this advantage gap widened as both groups got older. By age 70, the average musician was able to understand speech in a noisy environment as well as an average 50 year old non-musician, suggesting that lifelong musicianship can delay this age-related decline by 20 years.
Most importantly, the three assessments where musicians demonstrated an advantage all rely on auditory processing in the brain, while pure-tone thresholds do not. This suggests that lifelong musicianship mitigates age-related changes in the brains of musicians, which is probably due to musicians using their auditory systems at a high level on a regular basis. In other words, "use it or lose it".
|Contact: Kelly Connelly|
Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care