Age-related changes in hearing abilities are one of the most commonly reported health issues by older adults. Recent research suggests that age-related hearing loss may be a harbinger of cognitive decline. Accordingly, it may be possible to delay or mitigate cognitive decline by maintaining or improving hearing abilities. Interestingly, lifelong musicians exhibit slower rates of age-related decline on supra-threshold hearing tests that rely on central auditory processing, such as understanding speech when there is loud background noise. In the same population, pure-tone thresholds, which reflect near-threshold processing that relies mainly on structures in the cochlea, showed the same rates of decline in both musicians and non-musicians. Longitudinal work, where music lessons were provided to older non-musicians demonstrated that music training can be used to improve the ability to understand speech-in-noise. Together, these lines of research highlight that music training can improve central auditory processing abilities. Other lines of research have shown that the ability to perform music perception tasks, such as identifying an out-of-tune note, or synchronizing with a rhythm, are relatively preserved in older adults, despite the fact that these tasks rely on both hearing and cognitive abilities that are known to decline with age. This line of work suggests that music could be used as a cognitive/perceptual scaffold to help rehabilitate other aspects of cognition or hearing. Overall, these two lines of research highlight that central aspects of hearing are malleable, and that music or music training may be useful to improve hearing. Moreover, by improving or preserving hearing abilities in older adults, we could potentially delay or mitigate age-related cognitive decline.
- Understand the relationship between cognitive and hearing abilities in aging
- Understand the impact of music training on central auditory processing
- Understand age-related changes in music perception
- Integrate the knowledge about aging, cognition, music and music training, and use this as a foundation to start thinking about music-based forms of auditory rehabilitation