The expression “Music to my ears” could soon have a very different meaning for people dealing with hearing impairment.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London evaluated the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the results of the study highlighted the impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the principal measure researchers observed, enrolling 43 young children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 22 of the children observed had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had a hard time understanding speech perception before the start of the study, researchers developed control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For children in the singing group, a significant 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
There is a great deal of research showing the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this research is just one of them. In noisy environments, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these findings were backed by research carried out by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study examined 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.
Unlike the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results among people who were musically trained and those who weren’t was significant.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar results, but when any amount of background noise was added, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was a result of 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 identified by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. 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 educated when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. This once again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Bout With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most well-known composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was probably the conduit for extending his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last decade of his life almost completely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most treasured pieces were composed during his last 15 years.
Can children with hearing loss benefit from music and singing?