Playing Music Protects Memory, Hearing, Brain Processing

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Of course, neural timing is not the only component of hearing loss. The inner ear physically changes with age, and the tiny hairs that act as acoustic antennae inside the ear canal deteriorate.

And loud noises, like gunshots, shop tools, or the screaming shockwaves from acid rock, can all damage hearing. None of the participants in the study suffered that kind of damage. And only the "musicians" showed measurable signs of overcoming the tendency of the human brain to gradually slow down the time it takes to receive, process and act upon an auditory signal.

Kraus, whose latest study is in the online edition of the journal Neurobiology of Aging, says the research shows that it's not just hearing that is helped by music. It's also memory, which is among the most common complaints from normal aging.

"If you couldn't remember what I said to you a few seconds ago, you wouldn't be making sense of what I'm saying right now," she said.

So music is good, but is it ever too late to start?

"From everything I know about how the brain changes with experience and what I know about the effect of musical experience on the nervous system, my scientific gut feeling is that it can only help," she said, quickly adding that she doesn't have the data to back that up yet.

Asked if she is a musician, she replied:

"I play a couple of instruments, not particularly well, but I play them with great joy."

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