A study led by Canadian researchers has found the first evidence that lifelong musicians experience less age-related hearing problems than non-musicians.

While hearing studies have already shown that trained musicians have highly developed auditory abilities compared to non-musicians, this is the first study to examine hearing abilities in musicians and non-musicians across a broad age range, from 18 to 91.

Lead investigator Benjamin Rich Zendel at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute states, “What we found was 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”. 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.

Three assessments where musicians demonstrated an advantage all relied on auditory processing in the brain. 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.”

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