Anybody familiar with the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” knows Aaron Burr’s advice to Alexander Hamilton was to “talk less, smile more.”
For children with cochlear implants in Louisville, our advice would be similar; talking is great, but kids should “sing more,” according to a new study.
Doing so may improve their hearing.
How Singing Helps Hearing
A new study conducted by Finnish researchers and published in the journal Music Perception found that children with cochlear implants can improve their hearing ability, especially in noisy environments, by singing.
This unusual advice is the result of a study that analyzed “speech-in-noise” skills of children with cochlear implants.
The research team, located in Finland, tested three groups of children aged 4-13 to see how well they were able to understand speech in noisy situations.
Two of the groups wore cochlear implants, while the third group consisted of kids with normal hearing.
The children were sorted into groups based on their everyday singing habits – information gleaned from questionnaires filled out by their parents.
The researchers were most interested in “informal” singing – that which occurred without prompting, such as singing along to nursery rhymes, songs from movies, YouTube and the radio.
During testing, the children were asked to point out pictures representing words and sentences that were played to them through a loudspeaker over steady background noise.
The children with normal hearing, not surprisingly, displayed better speech recognition than the kids with cochlear implants.
But the children with cochlear implants who sang most often – even those without any formal musical training – showed better attention and overall perception skills than their counterparts who were less likely to sing.
They were also better at recognizing rhythm patterns – evidence that they also show better understanding of speech patterns.
Background noise is problematic for all people with hearing loss in Louisville.
Those who wear cochlear implants are at an even bigger disadvantage because the implants don’t provide the audio range needed to process simultaneous, competing sounds.
This is especially problematic for children, who often attend day care and school – environments where background noise is unavoidable.
This leads to language delays and learning difficulties; long-term consequences include low self-esteem and poor relationships with others.
Singing helps counteract these negative effects in multiple ways, the researchers theorize.
Children who sing regularly often pick up the habit from their parents, who sang to them when they were younger; children pay close attention to their parents’ mouth and lip movements, helping them to understand more easily – benefits that also come from the visual cues associated with lip reading.
Singing also helps improve vocal pitch and intensity and speech rhythm, strengthening the connection between hearing and speech.
Because most songs have few words and plenty of repetition, listeners are able to process what they are hearing more easily. Indeed, the study team found that clear and regular rhythm, slow tempo and repetition were key to achieving the best overall results.
If your Louisville child wears cochlear implants, encourage them to sing as frequently as possible.
Letting them watch musicals can help their long-term speech perception abilities and prepare them for a successful adult life despite their hearing impairment.
You might want to stick to Disney films for now – save “Hamilton” for when they are a little older!