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Man playing acoustic guitar on a couch to improve his hearing.

The saying “Music to my ears” could soon have a very different meaning for people who have hearing loss.

Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile impact on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.

Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance

Researchers looked at 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a tough time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.

For children in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.

The Ears Are Trained by Music

This study is only the latest in a long line of research initiatives that demonstrate the benefits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In noisy settings, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these results were corroborated by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute

That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through a number of background noise levels.

The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst individuals who were trained musically and those who weren’t was considerable.

Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians

When the noise was absent, both groups had similar results, but when any level of background noise was added, the musicians substantially outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was due to enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory regions located within the brains of the musicians.

But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. According to the study’s findings, musical training reinforced the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.

These adult musicians in this study had all been trained when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. Musical training has a powerful effect and this again supports that fact.

The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven

Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who started to lose his hearing in his 20’s.

The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was most likely the gateway for extending his musical career. Through the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly totally deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished works were composed during his last 15 years.

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References

Can children with hearing loss benefit from music and singing?

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-12-musical-affects-speech.html

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