Our ears and hearing are subjected to all sorts of sounds every day, from the chirping of birds outside to cars passing by and the conversations around us. Hearing is a crucial part of our lives, and the idea of losing it can be scary for anyone noticing a decrease in their hearing ability. However, most people tend to wait until it becomes a more serious issue and neglect to care for their hearing.
Some people believe that their ears won’t suffer some percentage of damage from the above-average volume of the music. They also forget to take proper precautions of wearing ear protection when they go to especially loud environments like music concerts. Too many people attribute hearing loss to aging even though there are many other reasons that contribute to hearing loss.
Experts in the field of hearing loss and deafness have done their best to inform the public about these issues, but it is still something that hasn’t caught much of the attention of the general public. Usually, people only start to become invested in their hearing health years after they notice their hearing is starting to decline. Depending on the severity of their hearing loss, the damage compounded on their ears may have already caused several solutions to become unusable and inadequate for their situation.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, around 13% of people in the United States aged 12 years and older are experiencing hearing loss in both ears, founded on standard hearing examinations. That statistic should be enough reason for people to become concerned about keeping their ears as sharp as possible as they grow older.
One of the many ways a person can help their ears remain sharp as ever is by going through auditory training that keeps your ears active and healthy. While hearing aids and other similar devices can assist with amplifying sounds to make it easier to hear, some people still struggle with interpreting what they are hearing. If the person’s hearing is related to aging, they may have an even more difficult time.
That is why experts these days are doing everything they can to get the word out on how crucial it is to maintain and sharpen your hearing. Let’s see what tips audiologists have to share when it comes to training our ears.
Training your brain to hear
The brain holds an essential role when it comes to your hearing capabilities. Without our brains, the concept of hearing would never be a thing. After all, we need our brains to translate sounds we hear in our lives, among other things.
Whenever a person hears something, sound waves travel from the outer ear, through the middle ear, and into the inner ear, where the vibrations stimulate the tiny hair cells. The hair cells within our inner ear send out electrical signals to the auditory nerve. Those auditory nerves are connected to the brain. That is where the electrical impulses are recognized and interpreted by the brain as sound. The brain proceeds to translate the impulses into sound so we can understand them.
Researchers have spent time looking for ways to enhance our brain hearing skills. The method is sometimes known as auditory training. While the results may be too early to tell for some professionals to suggest it, most of the time, it does have its place in helping some people train their ears. With the help of technology, more options are appearing for people to exercise their brains in hopes of improving their hearing skills.
A person’s brain relies on an established pathway to the auditory cortex. When hearing starts to become damaged, the brain may have to find a new route to fill in the gaps of missing information. After a while, the brain’s hearing becomes altered permanently. That may lead to cognitive functioning pulled away from other activities to offset the difficulty in hearing.
While devices like hearing aids can amplify and reintroduce sound to a person in areas where hearing damage occurred, the return of these sounds does not immediately mean the person can entirely comprehend those sounds. It takes time for a person’s comprehension to return with practice as the brain has to re-learn how to hear and process these sounds.
According to Dr. David DeKriek, “Some listening skills often become very difficult with hearing loss and are hard to re-establish. Picking specific conversations out of a noise-filled room is especially tricky. A sonic palette of other voices makes it hard to distinguish one person’s speech from another’s and can make spatially locating sound very confusing”.
Furthermore, he claims that some recent research has been published that shows a notable effect on these types of hearing skills. The research was conducted by a team from Harvard claiming they noticed a dramatic improvement to the hearing capability by using sound-focused brain training games.
“Designed to help users with hearing loss develop their spatial sense of sound, the game in the study required players to complete a puzzle by properly locating sound sources from a tablet screen. After just a short period of playing the puzzle game, the study found a 25% increase in their subject’s abilities to detect speech in noise. The success of the game to sharpen the listening skills of the users demonstrates the importance of practicing hearing in regaining important listening skills.”
Audiologists on Gamification
The advancement of technology has provided experts in the field with ways to further assist people with training their ears. One of the many ways people have come up with training a person’s ear is by using video games for these types of exercises. It is not surprising that someone out there would consider the use of gamification in an attempt to improve someone’s hearing. While playing a game may not be exciting for someone much older, those in the younger age spectrum might be more proactive when it comes to maintaining and training their ears.
With the help from her colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis, Nancy Tye-Murray, Ph.D., managed to create an auditory training game program for adults with hearing loss. She built the customized learning: Exercises for Aural Rehabilitation to provide people with auditory brain training who are hard of hearing with the power of computer games that can be easily accessed through the internet. The program gives training for those cognitive skills that are required to recognize connected speech.
The game is supposed to rest on two fundamental principles. The first is that the training needs to engage the patient’s attention so they can learn. The second one is to train their needs in a meaningful way. According to Nancy Tye-Murray, here is why gamified auditory training is far more likely to be effective than other types of training for individuals who are experiencing hearing loss.
- Playing video games is pleasurable.
- Pleasant activities cause the brain to increase the production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that acts as a “messenger” between brain cells.
- Research has shown that playing video games increases the production of dopamine.
- Increased dopamine levels enhance neural plasticity.
- Enhanced neural plasticity allows for greater perceptual learning.
- Hence, adults with hearing loss have a better potential for learning to use their residual hearing when playing auditory brain training games than when engaging in rote auditory training tasks.
That said, the idea of turning computer games into a way of assisting someone in training their ears for their hearing loss is interesting. It can provide a way for younger people to make an effort in refining their hearing and provide them with a fun option to do so. With the popularity of gamification, it can become another option that allows people with hearing issues to train and sharpen their ears.
Cardiovascular exercise and hearing loss
It’s common to see people attempt to exercise to improve their overall health. While most people think that cardiovascular exercises only benefit several parts of the body, such as weight loss, improving heart strength, and improving blood flow, it does far more than that. One of the many benefits most people are unaware of is how cardiovascular exercise can help with your hearing health.
Cardio exercises are necessary for the overall hearing health of a person as they age. Let’s say a person over the age of 50 years old decides to engage in cardio for at least twenty minutes a day for five or more times a week. These people are more likely to maintain a healthy auditory network compared to someone who barely exercises due to the benefit of increased blood flow from cardiovascular exercise.
Miami University conducted a decade-long study where they gathered 1000 subjects of all ages and noticed that people over the age of 50 with moderate-to-high cardiovascular exercise levels maintained their hearing sensitivity and compared it to individuals who were in their 30’s and discovered they had delayed presbycusis. Furthermore, research conducted from the University of Florida asserts that regular cardiovascular grants the needed blood flow, oxygen, and nutrition to sustain a healthy level crucial to the auditory systems within the cochlea. The leading author Shinichi Someya, Ph.D., states that “the cochlea, or inner ear, is a high-energy demanding organ.”
However, the hearing health benefits provided by exercising can be neutralized if you expose your ears to loud noises. For instance, listening to loud music through headphones can increase the chances of hearing loss. Lowering the volume down on the device and giving your ears time to rest from loud noises can prevent further damage to your hearing.
Audiologists on using yoga to exercise your ears
Yoga is an ancient exercise that has been around for thousands of years. The exercises yoga has to offer can impact the body in ways that most people are unaware of. Yoga can help a person improve their circulation, which is associated with a healthy auditory system. The poses people go through when performing yoga are capable of promoting healthy blood flow and may be beneficial in reducing hearing symptoms like tinnitus.
A study from Turkey appeared in 2018 that studied the impact of yoga on subjective tinnitus. The four researchers for this research observed twelve participants who practiced yoga in three months. These practices included body exercises, breathing exercises, and meditation.
The hypotheses for this study stated that tinnitus is connected to and can be exacerbated by stress. Since yoga is considered by most as a stress-relieving activity, they wanted to research if it would be possible to minimize the symptoms for patients experiencing chronic subjective tinnitus. The conclusion showed a notable difference in the stress and severity of the tinnitus in the follow-up questionnaire.
The researchers stated, “This study indicates that yoga practices may reduce life stress and symptoms of subjective tinnitus.”
Another research study was conducted by a team of Polish researchers in 2019. The study conducted by this group followed 25 patients who were experiencing chronic tinnitus over a twelve-week period of yoga training. Ten of these participants submitted to an MRI scan before and after the training, and every participant took the tinnitus functional index assessment.
The researchers discovered that participants benefited from an improved sense of control over their tinnitus, lessened its intrusiveness, improved sleep, and had a better overall quality of life. The MRIs showed a strengthened connection of white matter in the brain once the training was complete.
The researchers concluded their study by saying that “Yoga training has good potential to improve the daily functioning of patients with chronic tinnitus and can be considered a promising supporting method for tinnitus treatment.”
Audiologists on Musical Training
Auditory training comes in different forms, but one of the most well-known ones has to do with musical training. Some people seek out auditory training not because they wish to improve their hearing, but because they wish to train their hearing to increase their musical abilities and ears. When someone does this type of training, they are optimizing their perception, analysis, and technical skills of a musical instrument, note, or product.
But what if these techniques can be used to sharpen someone’s hearing?
According to Nina Kraus, the director of Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, it’s possible. “If you spend a lot of your life interacting with sound in an active manner, then your nervous system has made lots of sound-to-meaning connections” that can strengthen your auditory system, says Nina Kraus.
Kraus wanted to know if it was possible for musical training to help resist age-related hearing loss. To see what the results would be, she gathered a small group of middle-aged musicians and non-musicians between the ages of 45 and 65. These two groups were placed under various testing conditions that measured their ability to make out and repeat the sentences spoken in a noisy environment.
The results led to the conclusion that 40% of musicians were better at tuning out background noise and hearing the spoken words than their non-musician counterparts. They were also better at remembering the sentences than their non-musically inclined counterparts, making it easier for them to follow along with a conversation. As stated by Kraus, “in order to listen to a friend in a noisy restaurant, you need to be able to recall what was said a few seconds ago in order to make sense of what you’re hearing right now.”
Audiologists continue to do their best to assist their patients with their hearing issues. These training tips are an excellent way for you to get started on refining your hearing. Without training your ears, the quality of your hearing will decline over time and be in far worse shape as you continue to age. These training tips offer you a chance to fend off these issues from growing into something even worse in the coming years.