Turning Down the Noise: The Benefit of Musical Training on the Aging Auditory Brain.

Department of Psychology, University of Toronto. Electronic address: .
Hearing research (Impact Factor: 2.97). 07/2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.heares.2013.06.008
Source: PubMed


Age-related decline in hearing abilities is a ubiquitous part of aging, and commonly impacts speech understanding, especially when there are competing sound sources. While such age effects are partially due to changes within the cochlea, difficulties typically exist beyond measurable hearing loss, suggesting that central brain processes, as opposed to simple peripheral mechanisms (e.g., hearing sensitivity), play a critical role in governing hearing abilities late into life. Current training regimens aimed to improve central auditory processing abilities have experienced limited success in promoting listening benefits. Interestingly, recent studies suggest that in young adults, musical training positively modifies neural mechanisms, providing robust, long-lasting improvements to hearing abilities as well as to non-auditory tasks that engage cognitive control. These results offer the encouraging possibility that musical training might be used to counteract age-related changes in auditory cognition commonly observed in older adults. Here, we reviewed studies that have examined the effects of age and musical experience on auditory cognition with an emphasis on auditory scene analysis. We infer that musical training may offer potential benefits to complex listening and might be utilized as a means to delay or even attenuate declines in auditory perception and cognition that often emerge later in life.

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    • "In this sense, our results agree well with data linking aspects of complex auditory scene analysis to pre-attentive and ''primitive'' levels of brain processing (Alain et al., 2014; Bidelman & Krishnan, 2010). Critically, native listeners' neural compensation for speech in noise was not observed in nonnative listeners. "
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    ABSTRACT: We examined a consistent deficit observed in bilinguals: poorer speech-in-noise (SIN) comprehension for their nonnative language. We recorded neuroelectric mismatch potentials in mono- and bi-lingual listeners in response to contrastive speech sounds in noise. Behaviorally, late bilinguals required ∼10dB more favorable signal-to-noise ratios to match monolinguals' SIN abilities. Source analysis of cortical activity demonstrated monotonic increase in response latency with noise in superior temporal gyrus (STG) for both groups, suggesting parallel degradation of speech representations in auditory cortex. Contrastively, we found differential speech encoding between groups within inferior frontal gyrus (IFG)-adjacent to Broca's area-where noise delays observed in nonnative listeners were offset in monolinguals. Notably, brain-behavior correspondences double dissociated between language groups: STG activation predicted bilinguals' SIN, whereas IFG activation predicted monolinguals' performance. We infer higher-order brain areas act compensatorily to enhance impoverished sensory representations but only when degraded speech recruits linguistic brain mechanisms downstream from initial auditory-sensory inputs. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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    • "The cross-sectional study design used in the present study cannot rule out the possibility that the observed benefits in musicians results from preexisting group differences (for review, see Alain et al., 2014; Moreno & Bidelman, 2014). For example, certain genetic markers may endow a listener with enhanced auditory recognition abilities (Drayna et al., 2001), ultimately increasing aptitude for musical activities (Ukkola et al., 2009; Park et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Musicianship is associated with neuroplastic changes in brainstem and cortical structures, as well as improved acuity for behaviorally relevant sounds including speech. However, further advance in the field depends on characterizing how neuroplastic changes in brainstem and cortical speech processing relate to one another and to speech-listening behaviors. Here, we show that subcortical and cortical neural plasticity interact to yield the linguistic advantages observed with musicianship. We compared brainstem and cortical neuroelectric responses elicited by a series of vowels that differed along a categorical speech continuum in amateur musicians and non-musicians. Musicians obtained steeper identification functions and classified speech sounds more rapidly than non-musicians. Behavioral advantages coincided with more robust and temporally coherent brainstem phase-locking to salient speech cues (voice pitch and formant information) coupled with increased amplitude in cortical-evoked responses, implying an overall enhancement in the nervous system's responsiveness to speech. Musicians' subcortical and cortical neural enhancements (but not behavioral measures) were correlated with their years of formal music training. Associations between multi-level neural responses were also stronger in musically trained listeners, and were better predictors of speech perception than in non-musicians. Results suggest that musicianship modulates speech representations at multiple tiers of the auditory pathway, and strengthens the correspondence of processing between subcortical and cortical areas to allow neural activity to carry more behaviorally relevant information. We infer that musicians have a refined hierarchy of internalized representations for auditory objects at both pre-attentive and attentive levels that supplies more faithful phonemic templates to decision mechanisms governing linguistic operations.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2014 · European Journal of Neuroscience
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    • "It reiterates the importance of including musical classes as an element of educational programs in public schools and provides compelling evidence supporting the idea of implementing musical training programs for underprivileged children or children with neurological disorders in order to help them reach their full potential . Additionally, music training for the elderly can be seen as a tool to delay or even attenuate age-related perceptual and cognitive declines (Alain et al., 2014) and improve subjective well-being (Seinfeld et al., 2013). Particularly, in the context of an aging population facing an increasing amount of dementia and mild cognitive impairment diagnoses, it is crucial that we attempt to maximize our cognitive potential and brain health throughout the lifespan. "

    Full-text · Article · Apr 2014 · Frontiers in Neuroscience
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