Why Do I Hear, But Not Understand?

Why Do I Hear, But Not Understand?

In Communication, hearing loss by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Laurie Duffy, M.S.
Latest posts by Laurie Duffy, M.S. (see all)

If you’ve been dealing with changes in your hearing, you may have turned up the volume on your car radio or TV or phone. With the high volumes, you may hear the sounds, but you may struggle to make sense of them, whether it is music or a conversation. This is a common complaint of people who experience hearing loss: while they can hear, they have difficulty understanding.

The Consequences of Leaving Hearing Loss Untreated

According to surveys conducted by the Better Hearing Institute, it takes an average of seven years from the time a person first recognizes they might be experiencing hearing loss, until they decide to get tested. Often times, as hearing loss gradually gets worse, people learn new ways to adapt to the sounds and speech patterns around them. Some people get better at reading lips or social cues.

For a moment, consider our brains with this computer analogy. With computers, there are programs that run in the background unbeknownst to users, but they are crucial to the computer’s processing and operation. Likewise, our ears are always on, taking in the countless sounds from our environment and processing them in our brains to make sense of our surroundings.

Hearing happens in our brains. Through an intricate process, sounds waves enter our ears, the sound waves a turned into vibrations, and these vibrations are then turned into neural messages sent to the brain to be received as sound. With hearing loss, the signals received by the brain are “jumbled,” and over time, the parts of our brains that are processing and storing this sonic data begin to slow down.

When people wait for a long stretch of time to treat hearing loss, this “background program,” so to speak, becomes stagnant. At the same time, researchers have identified a potential link between hearing loss and dementia. With untreated hearing loss, the brain struggles to hear and make sense of sounds and speech, leading to a “cognitive load,” which tires out certain cognitive functions. As a result, people with untreated hearing loss may struggle with speech recognition.

How Hearing Loss Interferes with Speech Recognition

Speech recognition is one of the greatest challenges for people with untreated hearing loss. In fact, people tend to withdraw socially because they struggle in social settings with conversation. Some forms of hearing loss make it difficult to understand voices at certain frequencies. It is quite common for people with hearing loss to struggle with the voices of women and children.

When you take a hearing test, speech audiometry, or speech discrimination, is a crucial part of the hearing test. During the hearing test, we will determine your speech reception threshold by asking you to repeat a list of words. These words will be spoken or played through headphones and will vary in volume. The speech audiometry test will help us determine the degree and type of your hearing loss. It will also provide important information on the types of speech patterns and stimuli that may cause you difficulty or discomfort, which will determine the best technology to treat your hearing needs.

If a hearing loss is detected, we will work with you to find the best hearing aids to meet your speech recognition needs. There are many advanced hearing aids on the market that offer special features and programs to help you discern speech patterns, amplify specific voices in loud situations, and automatically adjust to varying frequencies of human voices. Once you have been fitted with a hearing aid that is best for you and adjust to the experience of hearing aids, you will eventually find that sounds are much easier to understand than before.

The path to better hearing and understanding takes time and adjustment. Even though your ears are taking in sounds and processing them better than before, remember that hearing actually happens in your brain. As you begin using your hearing aid, remember that your brain needs time to reboot the parts that have been stagnant before you treated your hearing loss. With patience and time to adapt, you will find that your speech recognition abilities will be revived as well.

To learn more about hearing loss treatment and to schedule a hearing consultation, contact us today at Hear Care Rhode Island.