If you’re like many people with hearing loss, noisy environments such as restaurants, large social gatherings and crowded public spaces can prove challenging when it comes to keeping up with the conversation. From competing voices at varying tones and frequencies to music and other background noises, participating, even with state-of-the-art hearing aids can become nearly impossible. It’s for this reason that some of the latest research into how to hear better in noisy environments is giving many people with hearing loss hope.
The results of the recent study were published in Current Biology and showed that it might be possible to train yourself to hear better in high levels of background noise. Specifically, using a specialized video game could improve people’s ability to hear speech in noisy situations. In the study, elderly hearing-impaired subjects trained for eight weeks on a closed-loop (CL) sensorimotor action video game that required them to monitor subtle deviations between predicted and actual auditory feedback. As they moved through the environment, they were challenged to detect “subtle deviations between predicted and actual auditory feedback.”
The report entitled, “Audiomotor Perceptual Training Enhances Speech Intelligibility in Background Noise,” outlined several interesting findings of the research study including:
- Speech-in-noise intelligibility in challenging listening conditions improved by 25%
- Generalized training benefits were compared to and exceeded placebo effects
- Inhibitory control ability and game strategy predicted individual training benefits
Subjects in the study who trained on the CL game correctly identified 25% more words in spoken sentences or digit sequences even with increased background noise. Authors point out that this represented a great improvement over hearing aids alone. Researchers do stress that continuing practice with the CL video games is needed to maintain hearing benefits.
“Understanding speech in noise is a significant unmet need in hearing health care,” said first author Jonathon Whitton, Au.D., Ph.D. “People are having trouble understanding their friends and family members in restaurants and social gatherings. Unfortunately, many hearing devices can’t really address this, and in response, some people start to unplug from social settings. This fits into an important public health challenge of helping the elderly stay connected longer in life.”
In fact, decreased hearing loss and the reduced socialization that may accompany it is now being linked to a variety of health concerns including an increased risk of depression, cognitive decline and dementia. While more research is needed, many experts hypothesize that a reduced ability to communicate and therefore socialize may be behind many of the associated health concerns. According to one source, “Although many adults are resilient, acquired hearing difficulties are nevertheless responsible for a high level of general psychological distress for a significant number of people due in part to isolation, loneliness, and withdrawal.”
For those with hearing loss, struggling to maintain their social life and hear in noisy environments, the findings of this study show great promise. While further studies are needed, a game to train you to hear better in restaurants and similar environments even with hearing loss could be coming to a hearing healthcare professional’s office near you soon!