Improving hearing is just like any other skill — it takes practice.
A loud restaurant or party can make conversation difficult for anyone, but for the elderly, these settings can make hearing what others have to say nearly impossible. Your hearing declines with age, but the latest research focuses on another part of the problem — the slower processing speed of aging brains, which have to work harder to translate sound into intelligible language.
A new study of auditory training, called Posit Science’s “Brain Fitness,” suggests that most people who are hard of hearing can develop skills that actually improve their hearing. In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists showed that people who trained using the program for 40 hours over 8 weeks were able to pick out 41% more words from background noise compared to those who watched educational DVD’s and were quizzed on their contents after the same amount of time.
Both those who received the training and those who watched the DVDs were tested on short term memory, brain processing speed and the ability to hear speech in noisy settings. All of the participants showed improvement in these three areas, but for the first time, the scientists also documented that the sharper hearing was accompanied by earlier signaling in the brainstem. EEG electrodes on the head picked up this activity, which was related to how quickly the brain was distinguishing between sounds, such as language vs. background chatter.
The findings from the research prove that training not only improved the ability to decipher speech in noisy situations, it also sped up the brain’s ability to respond to it — bringing it to more ‘youthful’ levels. Researchers are now investigating how long the benefits of the training last and whether the program will be as effective in people with minor to severe age-related hearing loss or dementia. Read more about the study.
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