Cognitive decline is a typical side effect of aging that can significantly affect older people’s quality of life. However, new research has found that confident lifestyle choices, such as musical training, can help reduce the effects of aging on the brain. According to the updated model of the scaffolding theory of aging and cognition (STAC-r), both aging and life course experience can influence brain structure and function, as well as the creation of compensatory scaffolding.
Even among those with normal hearing, understanding speech in a noisy environment is a joint cognitive deterioration in older people. However, there is some evidence that either long-term or brief musical instruction can aid in the prevention of this loss of speech perception. According to the overlap, precision, emotion, repetition, and attention hypothesis, musicians have an advantage in speech processing due to anatomical overlap between the brain networks that process music and speech, as well as because musicians’ brains are trained to engage these networks with greater precision, emotion, repetition, and attention.
As per Science Advances cross-domain transfer increases in processing audiovisual speech in noise may be generated by musicianship in older musicians via shared brain networks for speech and music processing. This benefit could be attributed to musicians having better central auditory processing processes and cognitive capacities in old age than nonmusicians. Older musicians likely have more intact speech representations because musical training promotes neuronal specificity of speech representations in young persons’ auditory and speech motor regions.
Regular musical training, according to a new study published in Science Advances, can slow or even reverse the age-related decline in older listeners’ ability to understand speech over background noise by preserving youthful activity patterns in sensorimotor areas and compensating for them with activity in the frontoparietal and default mode networks (DMN).
Under the guidance of Dr. DU Yi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Psychology, a neuroimaging study was undertaken with senior musicians, elder nonmusicians, and young nonmusicians. When differentiating audiovisual syllables under noisy conditions, the authors revealed that senior musicians outperformed elder nonmusicians and were on par with young nonmusicians.
The researchers discovered that older musicians deal with aging in two ways: functional preservation and functional adjustment. Musicians’ neuronal specificity of speech representations in sensorimotor areas, in particular, remained persistent until old age, at a level comparable to that of young nonmusicians.
Older musicians displayed more substantial brain alignment (i.e., more remarkable pattern similarity) in the same region than young nonmusicians. This capacity was connected with the level of training the older musicians had experienced. The more robust audiovisual speech-in-noise perception was connected with more youthful brain function in older persons.
The researchers also discovered that older musicians had higher activation levels in frontoparietal areas that support multiple activities across domains and higher levels of inhibition in task-irrelevant DMN regions that help avoid interference compared to older nonmusicians. More robust DMN inactivation was associated with improved audiovisual speech-in-noise performance. Increased frontoparietal activation and DMN inhibition contributed to more consistent neural patterns in the sensorimotor regions of older people. Functional compensation assisted in ensuring that the retained function remained intact.
Dr. DU discovered that engaging in musical engagement allowed older people to improve their hearing skills by keeping more youthful neural patterns and activating new compensatory brain regions. These findings suggest that musical training could slow or even reverse the decline in elderly listeners’ ability to perceive speech over background noise.
Furthermore, the compensatory suppression of DMNs, in conjunction with the functional preservation of sensorimotor areas, provides possible pathways for more tailored training regimens to protect speech capabilities in the aged population. This study shows how young brain features are retained, and compensatory brain scaffolding is increased by prolonged musical training in older people to support “successful aging” in speech processing.