THearCare RI - rain Your Brain to Stave Off Hearing Loss

Train Your Brain to Stave Off Hearing Loss

In hearing health, hearing loss, hearing loss causes, Hearing Tests, News by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

As we learn more and more about the human brain, it’s intricacies and processes become even more remarkable. For a very long time, it was believed that our brains were pliant only as children and that their pathways became permanent as we aged. Certainly, we believed that older adults were incapable of changing the ways that their brains functioned. After all, we’ve all heard the saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

However, recent theory and even research surrounding our brains adaptability actually shows that we maintain the ability to modify or create new neural pathways throughout our entire lives. This phenomenon is called neuroplasticity.

That’s an amazing feat! This means that old habits are reversible and that we can, in fact, learn new tricks. It also means that we can use the maintenance of our brain health to influence many other systems within the body, as this organ governs so much of our other functioning. Training your brain can even help postpone the onset of hearing loss!

Hearing with our brains

Much of what we perceive of hearing actually happens within our brains, though we are quick to let our ears take all the credit. And our ears play a very important role. It is in the inner ear that sound is captured by sensitive nerve cells. Then, this sound information is transferred to the auditory nerve and carried into the brain. There, sound information, or vibration, is translated into what we perceive as hearing. Understanding or comprehension is the last step in this multifaceted yet instantaneous seeming process.

Recent studies show that as folks age, these translator areas of the brain that process speech begin to weaken. As a result of this, it becomes difficult to focus in on a particular voice and separate it from background noise. But because of neuroplasticity, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Preserving healthy brain function

Instead of accepting that the brain’s aging process is set in stone, researchers posited the question of how to continue to keep the brain engaged and thus stave off this potential towards hearing loss. This particular study encompassed 24 older adults, all hearing aid wearers with an average age of 70 and had them participate in two months of video game training.

Half the cohort partook in a game that asked them to listen for subtle changes in tone, such as you might find in a piece of music and use this information to construct a puzzle. As one progressed through the levels of the game, the background noise became increasingly loud. The placebo group played a simple memory game and both groups dedicated only around three and half hours per week to the playing of the game.

Astounding results

While the placebo game had virtually no effect on a speech perception test that the groups were asked to complete, the listening game group saw significant improvement in their ability to hear and process sound in a noisy environment that is traditionally challenging for those with hearing loss. Similar to the obstacle of listening to a conversation in a busy restaurant, the listening game folks accurately identified 25% more words despite loud background noise than they were able to before they began video game training.

Next steps in training

It’s interesting to note that once the video game training concluded, the results of both groups returned to normal. This suggests that if we are to take on the effort of training our brains to support our hearing, that it is a long-term endeavor. It certainly prompts us to look more closely at the ways brain training assists our sensory function and encourages us to continue refining what works and what works best.

Don’t sleep on treatment

If you’re having difficulty hearing, do schedule a test with us at HearCare. Our team will gauge whether you have any degree of hearing loss and whether you’re eligible for treatment. As science continues to explore our healthy hearing futures, we do know right now that intervention in the form of hearing aids is proven to improve quality of life for those with hearing loss. We also know that hearing aids are a way to continue to successfully deliver sound to our brains in preparation for processing, ensuring that we continue to utilize this highly intelligent organ.