More evidence that musical training protects the brain
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Date posted: 05/02/2015
Posted by: Site Administration
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The Brain

Scientists have found some of the strongest evidence yet that musical training in younger years can prevent the decay in speech listening skills in later life.

According to a new Canadian study led by the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) at Baycrest Health Sciences, older adults who had musical training in their youth were 20% faster in identifying speech sounds than their non-musician peers on speech identification tests, a benefit that has already been observed in young people with musical training.

The findings are published in The Journal of Neuroscience (Jan. 21).

Among the different cognitive functions that can diminish with age is the ability to comprehend speech. Interestingly, this difficulty can persist in the absence of any measurable hearing loss. Previous research has confirmed that the brain's central auditory system which supports the ability to parse, sequence and identify acoustic features of speech - weakens in later years.

Starting formal lessons on a musical instrument prior to age 14 and continuing intense training for up to a decade appears to enhance key areas in the brain that support speech recognition. The Rotman study found "robust" evidence that this brain benefit is maintained even in the older population.

"Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training and we are now seeing robust evidence of brain plasticity from musical training not just in younger brains, but in older brains too," said Gavin Bidelman, who led the study as a post-doctoral fellow at the RRI and is now an assistant professor at the University of Memphis.

"In our study we were able to predict how well older people classify or identify speech using EEG imaging. We saw a brain-behaviour response that was two to three times better in the older musicians compared to non-musicians peers. In other words, old musicians' brains provide a much more detailed, clean and accurate depiction of the speech signal, which is likely why they are much more sensitive and better at understanding speech."

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