While advancements in technology like hearing aids and cochlear implants have helped many people hear more clearly, music can help each sound make sense.
Numerous studies have shown that music therapy has increased the quality of life in thousands of people. However, evidence also shows that it can improve how well individuals interpret sound and even improve how well they hear.
If you or a loved one is hard of hearing, music therapy may help you achieve better hearing and increase your communication skills.
Music Improves Perception of Speech
Hearing is not a matter of just how many decibels an ear can register. How well you hear is also largely determined by how your brain is wired.
The Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University selected a group of classically trained musicians and untrained people to listen to a voice recording. As the recording progressed, the voice noise level remained constant while the background music steadily increased.
As a result, the classically trained musicians were much better at distinguishing the voice against loud backgrounds, proving that much of hearing is determined by how well the brain interprets sound. It also proves that studying music is one of the most effective ways to improve your hearing.
A similar study on a group of factory workers and musicians further supports this theory. While both groups suffered from equal hearing loss, the musicians could distinguish harmonies that were off-key much better than the factory workers.
Through music therapy, children can train their brains to hear more clearly despite hearing loss.
How Music Impacts Cochlear Implant Users
One of the greatest improvements in hearing loss has been the invention of the cochlear implant. This device bypasses the damaged part of the ear and sends electrical signals directly to the auditory nerve.
While a cochlear implant does allow people to hear again, only 22 different electrodes exist to replace the 3,500 hair cells in a healthy cochlea. Therefore, some people have difficulty distinguishing the words in sentences, and it can be very frustrating in the beginning. While they can hear noise, patients using a cochlear implant can’t always make sense out of it.
Fortunately, music therapy has proven to help even cochlear implant users with speech perception.
One study showed that after just four weeks of music training, the cochlear implant user’s sentence recognition increased by 14 percent, and their melodic contour identification (MCI) skills increased by nearly 23 percent. Additionally, four weeks after the study was over and the music training paused, subjects still maintained the same percentage increases.
The promise of music therapy is exciting, and many hearing professionals recommend it as a mainstream practice. If you have lost hearing or have a loved one that is hard of hearing, don’t lose hope. The physical ability to register sound is only one part of being able to hear. The other part is training your brain to recognize sounds.
This is in your control, and there are numerous affordable music therapy programs around the U.S. to help you reach your hearing goals.
About the Author:
Dr. Pauline Dinnauer, AuD is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing, which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing and hearing aid consultation across the US.