Findings of the Help Musicians UK Musicians’ Hearing survey published in Psychology of Music journal
In 2014, Help Musicians UK (HMUK) conducted a national survey as part of their Health and Well-being Strategy which explored factors affecting musicians’ health and well-being, obtaining data from 552 musicians. Results highlighted a variety of issues including anti-social working hours, work instability, illness and physical problems, and mental health issues. However, an unanticipated finding was that 47% of the sample reported experiencing hearing problems (HMUK, 2014).
In response, HMUK devised a new survey to explore professional musicians’ hearing and use of hearing protection in more detail. The study was led by Nigel Hamilton and Maddy Pickard, with help from a steering committee which included professional musicians, an audiologist, a music psychologist, and representatives from Musicians’ Union and the British Tinnitus Association. Nigel and Maddy were then joined by Alinka Greasley and Robert Fulford, based at the University of Leeds, to analyse and write-up the findings which have now been published in the journal Psychology of Music.
Musicians’ hearing has received increased attention due to the rising prevalence of hearing loss among general and musical populations. This paper reports results of a national survey exploring professional musicians’ awareness of, and perceptions surrounding, their hearing health, and associated help-seeking behaviour including attitudes towards hearing protection.
693 professional musicians took part, the majority being orchestral or instrumental musicians. 40% of the sample had experienced hearing loss or other hearing issues and many attributed hearing problems to their musical careers. 50% of the musicians were worried about noise at work however less than a third had taken a hearing test. Reasons for having a test included subsidised tests and experiencing symptoms of hearing loss or tinnitus, whilst reasons for not having a test included a lack of awareness about options.
Data revealed an on-going tension between a concern to protect hearing and the perceived negative outcomes of wearing protection on musical performance, and highlighted the need for more in-depth research into the experiences of musicians in high-risk instrumental groups (e.g. amplified/band musicians, brass, percussion). Providing advice to musicians about the risks of Noise-induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) prior to experiencing symptoms of hearing loss or tinnitus will support improved protection behaviour.
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