Sheffield doctor’s aim to bring the music back for patients

Dr Harriet Crook, Lead Clinical Scientist for Complex Hearing Loss at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals
Dr Harriet Crook, Lead Clinical Scientist for Complex Hearing Loss at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals
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Beethoven composed some of his most famous works after he became profoundly deaf - while many more musicians have recorded songs and performed concerts while struggling with hearing difficulties.

But for many listeners and musicians, ear problems can spell the end of freely enjoying their favourite pieces, with hearing aids often struggling to interpret the complex sounds and layered arrangements.

Now a new study has been launched in Sheffield to find out how people’s musical experiences are affected by deafness, hearing impairments and the use of hearing aids, in the hope of identifying areas of improvement.

And for Dr Harriet Crook, an expert in the neuroscience of music who is leading the research at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, the issue has personal resonance.

She has been deaf in one ear since a bout of mumps in childhood, which gives her a valuable insight into her patients’ difficulties.

“When you’re listening with one ear it’s hard to separate things out in complex music,” said Dr Crook.

“It’s very different from speech, where typically you listen to just one person. When you’re listening to music you’re trying to listen to all the instruments merging together which can be really quite challenging.

“Being able to recognise music and follow melody is really important - to do that you need to be able to hear it clearly.”

Dr Crook said her day-to-day work involves fitting hearing aids.

“We’ve seen a number of people coming through the clinics who might manage well in one-to-one situations and at work, but really have a particular problem listening to music.

“Over the years they’ve asked us for advice, but there’s not a lot of research that has been done in the area.”

She said the problem ‘can be quite emotional’ for patients, particularly those with a strong love of music.

“Music is around us all the time, even if you don’t want to listen. It can be very emotional to lose something you really enjoy in your life. It can affect people’s employment, too, for people who work in music.”

The study will have three parts, the first a simple questionnaire. This will be given to anyone visiting Dr Crook’s department at the Hallamshire, as well as those attending the private Harley Street Hearing clinic in London.

The second phase will involve those who have opted to continue with the study. Music psychologists from Leeds University will examine patients’ test results and carry out interviews.

A large online survey is also being carried out. Findings of the project - which has been awarded £247,295 in funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council - will be presented at a conference in 2017.

Feedback has been positive so far, said Dr Crook, adding: “It’s all very promising and it seems like we’re going in the right direction.”