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Grenfell Research Chair Looking To Eventually Improve Life For The Aging Adult

Benjamin Zendel, who was recently named a new Canada Research Chair at Grenfell Campus Memorial University, has spent a large part of his career researching just that. Being chair in aging and auditory neuroscience, he is hoping to expand his life’s work and one day make a difference in people’s lifestyles to prolong or improve hearing ability.

His past work on the impact of age on how the brain processes speech and music has already revealed some interesting findings. He says lifelong musicians are better at understanding speech in noisy environments compared to non-musicians. To see if this correlation can translate into something that can benefit people, his continued research will hopefully determine whether there is a link between music training and enhanced hearing in older adults.

Being named research chair in this field, and the associated funding, Zendel will create a state-of-the art research lab at Grenfell. It will be located in the Arts and Science building, and plans are already underway to bring in the technology and equipment required to do the work.

The auditory electron cephalography lab should get other students and faculty get involved in the work. The equipment will present sounds to people and their associated brain activity will be recorded.

“Once we can identify those mechanisms, it will allow us to develop better techniques for improving or maintaining auditory health as we get older,” he said.

The unique lab and specific field of work could be an attraction to new students, according to Zendel. Working in the field of psychology himself, he said there is an obvious correlation to that, but he is also with the Faculty of Medicine in St. John’s and now connected to the aging centre that is being developed at Grenfell.

Some students and other highly qualified personnel will be hired to staff the lab.

The work could also lead to an overall improvement in life, he said.

“People who don’t hear as well tend to be more socially isolated,” Zendell said. “People whose hearing decline earlier in life are more likely to experience cognitive decline as well. So, there’s all these other effects in addition to not just being able to hear and talk to people. There are butterfly affects to not being able to hear that are much more serious.”

The long-term goal would be some individualized rehabilitation programs which could determine a person’s needs and, hopefully, find a non-invasive auditory training program that could maintain their hearing as they age.