The old adage "use it or lose it" applies to hearing, suggests a new study. Older musicians do not experience certain changes in the auditory cortex -- the part of the brain involved with hearing -- that are associated with aging, according to research presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in San Diego.
"This finding is important because it suggests that age-related changes in the auditory cortex that contribute to decline in auditory perception may be mitigated by musical training," said Benjamin Zendel, a doctoral student who co- authored the study with Claude Alain, PhD, of the University of Toronto.
Zendel and Alain presented participants with complex sounds under two conditions: active, in which they focused on the sounds, and passive, while they were doing another activity. During these tests, the researchers used electroencephalography to measure the participants' brain waves -- electrical activity caused by the firing of brain cells.
During periods of attentive listening, the auditory cortices of older musicians responded the same as those of younger adults, whereas older non-musicians showed typical age-related changes. The researchers note that the musicians spend much of their time paying attention to the details of sound, and this experience may be important for sparing auditory cortex responses.
"Our findings suggest that musical training, which is widely available, may enhance neural connections in the auditory cortex and thus might be useful in preventing age-related changes that contribute to hearing difficulties," Zendel said.
Research supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
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