If you have ever tried having a conversation in a noisy restaurant, or bar, it can be completely frustrating to have to yell over all the commotion. If you deal with hearing loss then this can add a whole new set of hurdles in listening.
In fact, one of the first signs of hearing loss is often trouble hearing speech in noisy settings. Even with the use of hearing aids this can still be a challenge. It’s important to remember that while we hear with our ears, we actually listen with our brains. Even if our ears can’t hear like they used to, there are exercises we can practice to develop skills to understand speech amongst a world of noise.
While these exercises can’t bring back our hearing, they certainly can sharpen our minds, in conjunction with the use of hearing aids to focus on the sounds we need to hear, in order to follow speech while sending noise pollution to the background of our minds.
Hearing Loss and the Brain
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing damage, permanently affecting the inner ear, which sends auditory information to the brain for processing. Many forms of hearing loss begin with the loss of just certain tones, consonants or pitches.
As hearing loss progresses, this struggle can become more severe. This creates a chronic condition where the brain is forced to interpret sound with limited information. Hearing aids are helpful for treating sensorineural hearing loss because they are programmed individually to amplify the specific sounds, which pose a problem, sending the signal to the inner ear where it can be sent to the brain.
Hearing aids are proven to help improve people’s ability to hear, and they take time to get used to. It takes training to hear in noisy settings even with the added amplification. Often people have to learn to hear again with hearing aids, especially if the hearing loss was left untreated for years. With the use of simple exercises people can learn to hear conversation much more clear in noisy settings.
Train Your Brain
Similar to a muscle, the more you use your brain the sharper and quicker it becomes. Concentrated exercises are used to help focus the brain on the sounds you want to hear and send the other sounds to the background. These listening exercises can’t restore damaged hearing, but can help restore listening compression for hearing aid users, by restoring lost connections.
One aspect that can be particularly challenging for people with hearing issues is distinguishing the direction in which sound is coming from in a noisy indoor or outdoor space. This is referred to as localization and when compromised, can develop into a safety and health issue. This is why people with hearing impairments are at a higher risk for falls, accidents and hospitalizations.
One way to strengthen localization is to play a sound over a speaker in a room. Then play another sound from a different room in a house. Feel free to turn up the sound on both speakers, creating a noisy environment. Ask a family member or friend to read a book and pace around the house. Close your eyes and repeat the sentences they are reading to you. This type of exercise can give you the tools to improve your localization skills over time.
Practice Listening Skills
Many listening skills can be done at home. In the time of smartphones and personal computers there is no need to visit a speech pathologist to regain conversational skills. There are many apps you can download to help you practice listening and sharpen those auditory connections. One app is called AB CLIX helps you to practice distinguishing between words, in both quiet and noisy environments. The HAPPYNeuron app uses sound-focused games to help you remember, concentrate, and react to sound confidently.
Deal with Hearing Issues
Most importantly, don’t ignore your hearing issues. If you suspect you have even a slight hearing loss, make sure you set up an appointment for a hearing test.
Hearing tests are quick, painless and can diagnose a hearing loss before it can develop serious communication issues. No matter your age, have your hearing checked annually and keep your brain sharp and on top of any possible hearing issues.