Posted on Friday, June 22, 2012

Musicians and Hearing: The Sound Problem

basset houd with ears raised for good hearing.

Playing music is a joyful and creative outlet, that has been shown to improve the ability to communicate and language skills as people age. Musicians are known to have greater skills at discerning certain sounds, even in background noise, but playing music without protective hearing devices is one of the leading causes of hearing loss and contributes to one of the most annoying symptoms of hearing loss--tinnitus. Today there are many options when it comes to protecting hearing, but as singer Denna Benfante tells us that wasn't the case fifty years ago when her accompanist, Stuie, began his career.

“We know that musicians have certain perceptual advantages over non-musicians, such as better auditory attention, memory, and listening skills.” Dr. Nina Kraus.

Singer Denna Benfante spent years performing with her accompanist, Stuie. Stuie was known as a warm hearted piano player who had a grandiose style that showed he took absolute pleasure from his music. In Stuie's day, people didn't even consider wearing protective hearing devices, and the availability and options now readily accessible to protect hearing were not yet invented when he started playing piano. In fact, custom fit hearing protection is only now coming to be known as a must have for people who play an instrument--much like shoulder pads and helmets are used to protect football players. Protecting hearing matters as much as protecting the head in football, because damage to hearing can have an impact on how the brain functions.

“Our brains have to work with whatever the ears pass along. If someone has poorer hearing, the quality of this information won’t be as good, and that is going to impact how our brains deal with it.” Dr. Jonathan Peelle

Noise induced hearing loss is the result of damage to tiny hair cells within the inner ear. These cells can be damaged instantaneously by explosive or loud noises or over time with repeated exposure to noise, causing hearing loss and tinnitus. For musicians this hearing loss is compounded by an inability to perform the craft they spent a lifetime perfecting. For Stuie it meant being unable to hear well enough to accompany singers like Deanna. As she told People Hearing Better, Stuie's hearing loss, "caused him much distress and more than disturbed his life and good times."

Like many people, Stuie let his hearing loss get to a point where he could no longer do what he loved to do. Often, people dismiss their hearing loss as, "Not being bad enough yet to do something about it." This is one of the biggest myths about hearing loss the exists today. There is no benign level of hearing loss.

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins, examined hearing loss and dementia and found that people with, “…mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had twofold, threefold, and fivefold, respectively, the risk of developing dementia over time.”

When Stuie finally decided to treat his hearing loss, he like many before him, wished that he hadn't waited so long. Denna tells us Stuie's hearing aids have, "made a world of difference in his life. Actually, you could say that he got his life back. His hearing is so much better and he can again play the piano, accompany singers and hear the laughter and screaming of his grand-children."

Thanks for sharing Stuie's story with us Denna. We are glad to know he sought out the help he needed, because, as you said, "What we hear is so important. I cannot imagine how horrible it must be not to be able to hear all the beautiful, loud, noisy and annoying sounds of the world. Not only for the happiness they bring, but for the safety being able to hear brings!" Denna's right. Sounds bring joy and can serve as warning to keep people safe, but they also help maintain brain functions. If you've been putting off seeing a hearing health professional, don't delay any longer!

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

*Personal stories may have been edited for tone and content.

©2011. American Hearing Aid Associates 225 Wilmington - West Chester Pike, Suite 300 Chadds Ford, PA 19317888.575.2511
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