Nina Kraus, professor of communication sciences in the School of Communication and professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is co-author of “Musical experience offsets age-related delays in neural timing” published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.
“These are very interesting and important findings,” said Don Caspary, a nationally known researcher on age-related hearing loss at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. “They support the idea that the brain can be trained to overcome, in part, some age-related hearing loss.”
“The new Northwestern data, with recent animal data from Michael Merzenich and his colleagues at University of California, San Francisco, strongly suggest that intensive training even late in life could improve speech processing in older adults and, as a result, improve their ability to communicate in complex, noisy acoustic environments,” Caspary added.
Previous studies from Kraus’ Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory suggest that musical training also offset losses in memory and difficulties hearing speech in noise -- two common complaints of older adults. The lab has been extensively studying the effects of musical experience on brain plasticity across the life span in normal and clinical populations, and in educational settings.
NEURAL ENCODING OF MUSIC. Lab Project. Musical experience has a pervasive effect on the nervous system. Our recent articles show that lifelong musical experience enhances neural encoding of speech as well as music, and heightens audiovisual interaction. Our work suggests that musicians have a specialized neural system for processing sight and sound in the brainstem, the neural gateway to the brain. This evolutionarily ancient part of the brain was previously thought to be relatively unmalleable; however, our studies indicate that music, a high-order cognitive process, affects automatic processing that occurs early in the processing stream, and fundamentally shapes subcortical sensory circuitry.