Listening Happens in the Brain
Understanding speech in noise is difficult, even for someone with normal hearing. Many people with hearing loss struggle in background noise situations because there are sounds of speech simply not loud enough for them to hear. This can make it seem as though “people are mumbling” when in fact it just sounds like mumbling because there are pieces of the speech puzzle missing. Hearing aids can help significantly by making those missing sounds of speech audible. So why do people who have been treated with hearing aids still struggle in noisy environments?
Why do people with normal hearing struggle in background noise?
There is a new area of research in the field of audiology coined as the “cocktail party problem”. Researchers at the University of Maryland determined, in a 2016 study, that as we age, the brain’s ability to filter speech in noise is much more difficult due to changes in the midbrain and cortex. This can occur even if normal hearing is present.
We realize now, there are many factors involved in listening. Hearing aids can help us HEAR by giving volume to missing sounds of speech and by filtering some noise; but LISTENING, the actual processing of what is heard, occurs in the brain. You can strengthen the brain’s ability to listen and process by practicing. This is called auditory training.
For example, if you were talking to a person from Boston and you were not accustomed to talking to someone with a Boston accent, you might struggle to understand what is being said. If you became great friends with that same person and talked to them daily, it would get easier and easier to understand their speech.
In this same way, if we practice listening in difficult environments, we are like athletes in training. We can get better and better at any skill by repetition and practice.
Listening is no different!
Thankfully there are several programs for auditory training that individuals can do daily in the privacy of their own home.
·Starkey Hear Coach
This free app for smart phones and iPads that helps strengthen auditory processing by the user playing listening games in different levels of background noise.
This app is available for both Apple and Android users:
· Therapy for the Brain
This program is for individuals with normal hearing or individuals with hearing loss wanting to develop skills to perform better in difficult listening environments. Training modules include filtering speech in noise, listening to multiple talkers at once, processing rapid speech and filling in the blank if a word is missed (word memory).
· Brain HQ
This online brain training system is designed to enhance brain function by improving accuracy and speed of remembering. Training sessions take just five minutes a day and it adapts in difficulty as you improve. It is based on the work of respected neuroscientists from around the world led by Dr. Michael Merzenich of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).
Available as a free trial, this program trains your brain, eyes and ears to work together to speech-read. Clinically shown to improve speech comprehension by more than 40%, it uses a crossword puzzle like game that is simple and intuitive.
To learn more about any of these programs, please contact us at 615-443-4070 .
University of Maryland. "Hard of hearing? It's not your ears, it's your brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 Oct 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161018141152.htm>.