Caitlin N. Price1, Gavin M. Bidelman2,3,4
1
Dept. of Audiology & Speech Pathology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR USA
2Institute for Intelligent Systems, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN USA
3School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN USA
4Dept. of Anatomy & Neurobiology, University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, Memphis, TN USA

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) commonly impacts older adults resulting in more rapid cognitive and behavioral declines than typical aging. Individuals with MCI can exhibit impaired receptive speech abilities that may reflect neurophysiological changes in auditory-sensory processing prior to usual cognitive deficits. Benefits from current interventions targeting communication difficulties in MCI are limited. Yet, neuroplasticity associated with musical experience has been implicated in improving neural representations of speech and offsetting age-related declines in perception. Here, we asked whether these experience-dependent effects of musicianship might extend to aberrant aging and offer some degree of cognitive protection against MCI. During a vowel categorization task, we recorded single-channel EEGs in older adults with putative MCI to evaluate speech encoding across subcortical and cortical levels of the auditory system. Critically, listeners varied in their duration of formal musical training experience (0-21 years). Older musicians exhibited sharpened temporal precision in auditory cortical responses suggesting musical experience produces more efficient processing of acoustic features by offsetting age-related neural delays. Additionally, we found robustness of brainstem responses predicted severity of cognitive decline suggesting early speech representations are sensitive to pre-clinical stages of cognitive impairment. Our preliminary results extend prior studies by demonstrating positive benefits of musical experience in older adults with emergent cognitive impairments.

Acknowledgements: This work was supported by grants from the GRAMMY® Foundation and National Institutes of Health (NIH/NIDCD R01DC016267 and R01DC016267-03S1) awarded to G.M.B. Requests for materials should be addressed to G.M.B [gmbdlman@memphis.edu].