Back in 2012, before I moved to Eastern Ontario and started to get back into playing music, we profiled a special project in this blog: Music & Memory, which gifted donated iPods filled with personalized music to people in nursing homes experiencing dementia. The change in the recipients was astonishing: listening to the music of their prime had the effect of unlocking their memories and bringing them back to their minds; to quote Dr. Oliver Sacks, it “return[ed] them to themselves.” (The Music & Memory project continues and has only grown bigger! Go here for more info and how to get involved.)
Another benefit of music to our aging selves has just been discovered: it may help alleviate hearing loss. According to Dr. Benjamin Zendel of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, quoted in a recent webisode of InstruMental, age-related hearing loss is actually part physical and part cognitive. It’s the latter half that we have control over — and can improve — specifically by musical training.
Dr. Zendel states that, in addition to our experiencing the cilia death that begins to limit the sounds we can physically hear as we age, our brains also start to have difficulty organizing the sounds that are still detectable. The establishment is still figuring out why the training — i.e. learning an instrument or performance technique — has the effect it does, “[b]ut it seems that musical training protects against that part of hearing loss. It keeps the brain organizing sound at a higher level, the same way that a young person would do it.”
There is much research into the effect singing has on learning and thought already so I imagine its only a matter of time before the connection between musical training and hearing strength is fully understood.
In the meantime, I’m going to continue practicing my viola, and hedging my bets! But let’s not use this as an excuse to shred our eardrums at a live concert, standing too close to the stage to watch the lead guitarist’s technique to apply at home. Then, training or no, we’ll all be pretty well sunk!