Hearing loss happens for a variety of reasons. Commonly, the tiny hair-like structures in the inner ear that capture sounds from the world become damaged. Once that happens, auditory stimuli can't be absorbed, turned into electrical impulses and then transmitted to the brain. In older adults, however, hearing loss often stems from problems in the brain itself. In fact, tests have shown that as we age the areas in the brain associated with sound begin to slow down, limiting our ability to process auditory information.
But what if there was a way to reverse that loss of brain function? As it turns out, a new study suggests that preserving the auditory centers of the brain may just be possible.
For the study, researchers gathered 24 adults, with an average age of 70, all of which suffer from hearing loss. Over the course of eight weeks, the participants played two different games for an average of over three hours a week. One of the games asked the participants to identify subtle changes in musical tones. The other game was simply designed to improve their memory. At the end of the study, the participants that had been playing the music game were found to have regained some of their hearing ability.
Although we may think of hearing loss as simply an inability to hear, the problem actually manifests itself in more complex ways. One of the most common signs of hearing loss is the inability to distinguish voices inside of a crowded environment, such as a noisy restaurant or bar. Through the test, the researchers discovered that the musical training actually sharpened the participants' ability to parse out specific sounds. On average, the members of the group that did the musical training were able to pick up 25% more words amidst loud background sounds.
These results show that specific types of mental training can help people retain or even recover their hearing. However, there are drawbacks. First and foremost, all of the participants discovered that their increased hearing ability disappeared once they stopped playing the game every day. That means that regular engagement with mentally stimulating exercise is required to achieve the benefits. Also, the size of the study itself is an issue. Even though the results were positive, 24 adults is too small of a sample size to draw any kind of broad conclusions.
Still, the researchers were encouraged by the results. Hopefully, further studies will prove that mental stimulation can help to retain hearing ability, and, down the road, scientists will get better at designing games to improve auditory and cognitive function.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!