Successful aging of musicians: Preservation of sensorimotor regions aids audiovisual speech-in-noise perception

Musicianship can mitigate age-related declines in audiovisual speech-in-noise perception. We tested whether this benefit originates from functional preservation or functional compensation by comparing fMRI responses of older musicians, older nonmusicians, and young nonmusicians identifying noise-masked audiovisual syllables. Older musicians outperformed older nonmusicians and showed comparable performance to young nonmusicians. Notably, older musicians retained similar neural specificity of speech representations in sensorimotor areas to young nonmusicians, while older nonmusicians showed degraded neural representations. In the same region, older musicians showed higher neural alignment to young nonmusicians than older nonmusicians, which was associated with their training intensity. In older nonmusicians, the degree of neural alignment predicted better performance. In addition, older musicians showed greater activation in frontal-parietal, speech motor, and visual motion regions and greater deactivation in the angular gyrus than older nonmusicians, which predicted higher neural alignment in sensorimotor areas.

Together, these findings suggest that musicianship-related benefit in audiovisual speech-in-noise processing is rooted in preserving youth-like representations in sensorimotor regions