If you’ve ever struggled to pick out a conversation in a noisy space, you know how frustrating it can be to distinguish speech from noise. Even with modern technological advancement, helping a user discern speech in loud places remains one of the biggest challenges for any assistive hearing device. Now, research is pointing to the role that brain exercises may play in helping to make speech perception easier. Although exercises can’t bring back damaged hearing, honed exercises for the mind can sharpen the way we hunt for significant noises. Used in conjunction with hearing aids, brain exercises may increase their efficacy.
Hearing Loss and the Brain
When our hearing is damaged, it immediately affects our cognitive functions. While we use our ears to detect sound, we need our brain to parse those sounds into meaning. Healthy hearing relies on established pathways in the auditory cortex. When our hearing is fragmentary the brain has to scramble for new pathways to fill in missing information. Gradually, the way the mind hears is permanently altered and our cognitive functioning is increasingly pulled away from other activities to compensate for the challenges of hearing comprehension.
This over-burdening of our cognitive activities means that we have less mental resources for things like balance and coordination. Trying to hear with untreated hearing loss can become frustrating and physically draining.
The Brain Exercise Difference
When you use hearing aids to treat hearing loss, you also start to lessen the load on your cognitive abilities. Hearing aids can amplify and reintroduce sounds that were imperceptible to your damaged hearing. However, the return of auditory sounds doesn’t immediately equate to clear comprehension. In fact, comprehension returns gradually with practice as your mind has to re-learn healthy hearing.
Some listening skills often become very difficult with hearing loss and are hard to re-establish. Picking specific conversation out of a noise-filled room is especially tricky. A sonic palette of other voices makes it hard to distinguish one person’s speech from another’s and can make spatially locating sound very confusing.
New research is emerging that brain training can have a significant impact on these sorts of nuanced hearing skills. A team at Harvard recently reported on dramatic improvements to hearing ability with the use of a sound-focused brain training game.
Designed to help users with hearing loss develop their spatial sense of sound, the game in the study required players to complete a puzzle by properly locating sound sources from a tablet screen. After just a short period of playing the puzzle game, the study found a 25% increase in their subject’s abilities to detect speech in noise. The success of the game to sharpen the listening skills of the users demonstrates the importance of practicing hearing in regaining important listening skills.
Concentrated exercises can’t restore damaged hearing, but they can complement the hearing rehabilitation that hearing aids do, and help users to regain their listening comprehension. Where the brain has written over healthy hearing patterns, training exercises work to re-establish lost connections.
In the smart phone era, accessing brain exercises tools to help your hearing can be done from the convenience of your own home. Specialized sound training programs can be found as computer programs and mobile apps for any budget.
For a quick and portable solution, several mobile apps can help you tackle brain training. The i-Angel Sound app is a free exercise application that is consistently updated with new training options. The Auditory Verbal app features an appealing design with multi-tiered sound recognition training. Various exercises and methods are included in the Auditory Verbal app which costs under $4.00.
More sophisticated programs are also available. The clEARWorks auditory exercise program offers audiologist support with the purchase of a subscription. The itinerary of clEARWorks training is customizable and incorporates associated skills, such as exercising memory for listening. The clEARWorks program and support is available for around $50 a month.
With the support of an audiologist team at the University of California, another publicly available training program has been developed. Listening and Communication Enhancement (LACE, for short) is a computer program designed specifically for enhancing user’s ability to hear in noisy, busy, difficult situations. As the user progresses through the program, listening skills are naturally integrated into how they hear.
Fidelity Hearing Centers
If you’re having issues with your hearing, it’s time to take action. At Fidelity Hearing Centers our hearing specialists can help you find the best solutions for your hearing health.