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Understanding the Impact of Long-term Music Appreciation and Hearing

By Nicole Klutz, Au.D., Phonak Audiology Manager

During the 2018 3rd Annual Music Induced Hearing Disorders Conference, I joined the company of audiologists, acoustic engineers, musicians and researchers in Chicago to discuss and review music-induced hearing disorders.

For a long time the acoustic and hearing industry has investigated the connection between music performance and appreciation, and it’s impact and consequences on the hearing system.

The conversation has started to shift from an external protection strategy via the use of hearing protectors and musician’s ear monitors to an internal understanding and investigation of the physiological changes of the hearing mechanism that take place after long-term music appreciation.

Music and Cognitive Function

Perhaps most interestingly, the connection between overall health and wellness, such as cognitive performance later in life, made an appearance early in the conference. This piqued my interest — we all recognize the focus in the hearing industry is heavily weighted and targeted on the topic of wellness and healthy aging.

Little did I know that current research is demonstrating the importance of music performance and the brain, and it’s connection to potentially improve or mitigate cognitive decline later in life.

Little did I know that current research is demonstrating the importance of music performance and the brain, and it’s connection to potentially improve or mitigate cognitive decline later in life.

The performance of music consistently throughout out our lifetime has demonstrated improved cognitive function as our brain ages. For example, older adults who have a strong musical background tend to demonstrate more robust cognitive skills as they age, potentially delaying the onset of cognitive loss.

While this topic and potential connection are still in the investigative phase, research is demonstrating promising key attributes that could, in the future, help hearing care professionals discuss interventions or rehabilitative processes utilizing music for individuals who once performed.

Hidden Hearing Loss

Another interesting topic that was discussed at the conference was “hidden hearing loss.” Hidden hearing loss remains a mystery for many hearing care professionals, as there has not been a clear understanding of what exactly is happening physiologically within the hearing system to cause such a phenomenon of seemingly “normal hearing” per standard hearing testing but reported subjective hearing concerns by the patient.

Hidden hearing loss remains a mystery for many hearing care professionals…

Research seems to point to physiological damage that goes “sight unseen” when testing hearing via a traditional hearing evaluation. However, discussion between researchers at the conference brought to light the lack of consensus on a very hot topic in the hearing industry – especially when working towards finding a solution.

Pushing Boundaries on Hearing Healthcare

Overall, my experience was fascinating at the two-day conference. At times I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge that was present in one communal space – while at the end of the day I was exhausted, and my brain was full of new, exciting, cutting-edge research and what felt like hundreds of questions.

Hearing health care continues to push the boundaries of understanding what is happening to our ears and our brains based on the inputs and experiences we participate in every single day.

Never had I imagined that the music I enjoyed and performed as a child and young adult would potentially help me as I enter a later stage of my life. Better yet – will it be enough? Or should I start playing again?

It was empowering to learn about the research demonstrating the ways I, in the current day, could potentially position myself in a positive way as my brain ages.

Hearing health care continues to push the boundaries of understanding what is happening to our ears and our brains based on the inputs and experiences we participate in every single day.

Nicole Klutz

Nicole joined Phonak in 2013. Originally from the East Coast, she grew up in Maine and moved to the Midwest in 2009 to complete graduate schooling at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. An avid outdoors enthusiast, Nicole spends a majority of her free time in the water, woods or on the road traveling with her two dogs and husband. As a part of the audiology team at Phonak, Nicole enjoys spending time teaching and training on new products and their benefits as well as continuing to build upon the audiological foundation of Phonak.