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As People Age, Brains May Not Filter Out Noise

by Jane Meggitt

Some hearing loss is normal in aging people. For a generation who spent lots of time at rock concerts and listening to loud music, the situation may be worse. However, because younger people also frequently expose themselves to blaring music, the age at which significant hearing loss begins is heading downward. In fact, two-thirds of hearing loss occurs in those under 65. New research indicates it isn’t necessarily the ears themselves responsible for hearing loss, but the brain’s inability to filter out noise. This makes understanding the speech of others more difficult for older individuals.

English vs. Dutch

In a study published in the September, 2016 edition of the Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers noted, “The ability to understand speech is significantly degraded by aging, particularly in noisy environments.” Older people try coping with this deficiency via using contextual clues. The study focused on using background noise consisting of either other people speaking in English – the language of the study’s subjects – or Dutch, a tongue none of the subjects understood. Participants could process information much better when the background noise consisted of an unfamiliar language. The study concluded that the brain’s neural processing is “strongly affected” by background noise’s informational content. Taken outside of a study context, that means older people dining in a restaurant, for example, may have a harder time understanding a conversation at their table when people at adjoining tables are speaking in English. Should the fellow diners speak in a language unknown to the older individuals, they should have fewer issues understanding the conversation of their English-speaking dining companions.

Hearing Tests and Help

One problem is that standard hearing tests are not designed to detect this type of comprehension loss through background noise. You may have noticed that you don’t make out conversation as easily as you once did when there’s a lot of noise in the background. It may affect more than your social life – this sort of distraction can affect job performance. If you experience hearing loss, get yourself to an audiologist. The overwhelming majority of hearing loss sufferers benefit from using a hearing device. These are not your grandma’s hearing aids – they’re light, comfortable and almost unnoticeable. Doctors also offer a hearing rehabilitation process to help patients learn new ways to improve their hearing, especially in conversations. The earlier you start hearing loss treatment and therapy, the better the outcome over the long term.

If you or someone you know would like more information about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!

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