For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” could take on a completely new meaning.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London examined the effects of musical activities on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the effect and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Gauging 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. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had trouble understanding speech perception before the beginning of the study, researchers introduced control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
The results showed an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group compared to their counterparts in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This study is just the most recent in a long line of research initiatives that show the advantages of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In loud environments, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these results were backed by research conducted 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 numerous background noise levels.
In contrast to the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study evaluated young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results among people who were trained musically and those who weren’t was substantial.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed equally under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would distinguish themselves as the study continued, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise rates. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory areas of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training identified by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. The auditory motor network is fine-tuned and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this research.
These adult musicians in this study had all been trained when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. This once again supports the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most celebrated musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who started to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Though Beethoven’s early childhood musical training would be regarded as severe by present standards, the foundation of the training may have been the conduit to extending his career as a composer. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last 10 years of his life nearly completely deaf. Despite that, many of his most cherished pieces were composed during his last 15 years.
Can children with hearing loss benefit from music and singing?