Once of the most common symptoms of hearing loss is difficulty understanding speech in noisy places. Even with hearing aids, some situations can particularly challenging, and leave you exhausted by the end of the night. For those who experience this regularly, there is help at hand: You can now use an app to train your brain to hear better in noisy environments.
This is the claim of researchers from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, who suggest that speech understanding in noise can be improved though brain training computer games.
To come to these conclusions, the researchers had a group of seniors train for two months on a computer game that required them to detect small changes in sound to help them put a jigsaw puzzle together. The researchers were trying to emulate a musician’s ability to distinguish particular sounds in a spectrum of noise.
They found that those who played the game could accurately distinguish 25% more words in spoken sentences or digital sequences in noisy situations more than those in the placebo group. In fact, the training from the game led to more than three times the benefit.
How can brain-training to improve speech comprehension?
While we hear with our ears, it’s up to the brain to interpret that data. The results of the study confirm the brains ability to make new pathways into old age, even when it comes to coping with background noise.
Focused drills will not heal your hearing loss, but it can certainly supplement the hearing treatment performed by hearing aids and help users understand speech comprehension much more readily by restoring lost associations within the brain itself.
One of the main benefits of this type of therapy is that it can be done in your own time, anywhere you want. For those who are interested, here are a few other brain training programs that are aimed at to improving speech understanding in noise.
3 examples of programs which could aid speech understanding
- LACE: The LACE auditory training program was developed by audiologists at the University of California and is aimed at retraining the brain in difficult listening circumstances to better understand speech.
- clEARWorks4EARs: This program comes with training and guidance from an audiologist. It enables you to understand speech in loud or quiet settings, as well as the cognitive abilities needed for memory recall and speech understanding.
- Angel Sound: People who are currently using hearing aids can use the interactive, self-paced modules in this program that cover distinct parts of the listening process to better identify and discriminate sounds and speech elements.
The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary study builds upon previous research conducted in 2013 and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where scientists showed that people who trained for 40 hours over 8 weeks with Posit Science’s “Brain Fitness” were able to distinguish 41% more words from background noise, compared to those who merely watched educational DVDs.
Scientists have recorded that faster signalling in the brainstem was responsible for the improved speed in speech understanding. The use of EEG electrodes identified a rapid differentiation of the brain between competing sounds, such as speech vs noise.
This study demonstrated that there was the potential for a reversal in age-related hearing loss in the future. In other words, training not only enhanced the capacity in loud circumstances to distinguish voices but also increased the capacity of the brain to react. This means that with the right training, the brain could have the potential to ‘roll back the years’ when it comes to speech understanding.
The implications for hearing loss treatment
These two studies on the benefits of brain training for speech understanding certainly offer encouragement that the brain has the ability to mitigate some of the effects of hearing loss. But it’s important to stress that the brain training should be seen as a supplement, rather than a replacement for standard hearing loss treatment such as hearing aids.
Although brain training games have been with us for a while, they will not be replacing more traditional treatments for hearing loss any time soon. Those with hearing loss should instead take a hearing test with a professional and, if necessary, fit themselves with some hearing aids.
Hearing Services of Antioch
We offer comprehensive hearing evaluations which will accurately detect the level of your hearing loss, and hearing aids which can substantially improve your understanding of speech in noise. Contact us to set up an appointment.