Last summer the musical group King Crimson toured the world. Their tour was called Music Is Our Friend. Music lovers know that music can “calm the savage beast”, enhance our mood, relieve boredom and provide perfect backdrops for sporting events, worship and social activities. Music can transport us to other times and places in ways that words or images often cannot. Can music be more than this? Can music have health benefits as well? The answer may surprise you.

Researchers have been studying the relationship between hearing and cognition, or the ability to learn, adapt, and solve problems. One of the ways the brain needs “exercise” is by taking in the sounds of the world. This includes speech, music, and environmental sounds. Loss of hearing has been found to be associated with cognitive decline.

One of the most persistent problems with hearing loss is the inability to hear in noisy places. “I can hear you in a quiet room just fine, but not if there are other people talking.” This is a very difficult problem to solve. Hearing aids are now equipped with noise reduction circuits and directional microphones. These advances have helped tremendously. Part of the problem, however, is in the brain’s inability to “tune out” the noise in older patients.

Can listening to music help this? People with musical training have been found to better maintain hearing perception. They do not need slower speech in quiet as much as other people. The auditory (listening) areas of their brains are better connected, and they hear better in noise as a result.

Luckily, we have learned the human brain can adapt and learn well into the elderly years. Listening to (and playing) music can improve the function of the brain in many ways.

Remember, we detect sounds with our ears, we listen with our brains. What we don’t use, we can lose. Keep your brain young. Dig out those old records or CDs. Put on the headphones (not too loudly!). You may get more benefit than you realize. Music is indeed our friend. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.