The world’s most famous musician, Ludwig Van Beethoven, may have been totally deaf – but new research suggests learning to play an instrument can actually stop you from losing your hearing.
Researchers have found the first evidence that lifelong musicians can experience less age-related hearing problems than those who never practiced a tune.
It’s the type of news which will make millions of people wish they’d listened to their parents’ nagging about keeping up the piano lessons.
Previously it had only been known that highly trained musicians have highly developed auditory abilities compared to non-musicians.
This new study is the first to examine hearing abilities in musicians and non-musicians across the age spectrum – from 18 to 91 years of age. It found that lifelong musicianship can delay age-related decline by 20 years. In the study, 74 musicians (ages 19-91) and 89 non-musicians (ages 18-86) participated in a series of auditory assessments.
A musician was defined as someone who started musical training by the age of 16, continued practicing music until the day of testing, and had at least six years of formal music lessons. Non-musicians in the study did not play any musical instrument.
The subjects sat in a soundproof room and completed four auditory tasks and results revealed musicians showed a clear advantage over non-musicians and this advantage gap widened as both groups got older. By age 70, the average musician was able to understand speech in a noisy environment as well as an average 50 year old non-musician, suggesting that lifelong musicianship can delay this decline by 20 years.
But there's a word of warning. Other famous musicians who suffer from hearing problems such as The Who's Pete Townshend has partial deafness and tinnitus which is believed to be the result of extensive exposure to loud music.