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New Study Could Show How Brain Compensates for Hearing Loss

by April Maguire

Hearing loss is one of the most common ailments in the world. According to studies, between 80 percent and 90 percent of seniors over the age of 80 suffer from a significant amount of hearing loss. Additionally, the condition is also becoming common among young people as well. In recent years, the number of Millennials in their 20s suffering from noise-induced hearing loss has skyrocketed.

Sadly, a high percentage of this hearing loss goes entirely untreated. As a result, overall hearing ability decreases, and, as a side effect, the brain actually alters the way that it processes information. When the areas in the brain that normally process sound – the central and peripheral auditory system – begin to lose functionality, other parts of the brain step in to pick up the slack.

So how exactly does the brain change as a result of hearing loss? Well, according to a recent study performed by the Rotman Research Institute, we may be one step closer to finding out.

Separating Speech From Background Noise

The Rotman Research Institute's study, which was recently published in the "Nature Communications" journal indicates that a specific area in the frontal lobe steps in to help people compensate for hearing loss. According to Dr. Claude Alain, the primary investigator for the study, the areas of the brain that control our speech articulation and production actually become more active in people with hearing loss.

In a way, this basic brain rewiring makes sense. For people that have difficulty hearing, it can be hard to pick out voices and speech amidst background noise. So why wouldn't the area of the brain associated with speech lend a helping hand?

To arrive at this conclusion, Alain and the rest of the research team examined the brain activity of 32 subjects. Of these subjects, half were younger adults while the other half were older. By looking at the way the subjects' brains processed sounds, the team was able to determine that the frontal lobe speech centers are more active with people with hearing difficulty.

Next Steps

So how do these results help people who are hard of hearing? Well, if scientists can better understand how the brain copes with hearing loss, it makes it easier for them to design assistive devices. Now that we know that the speech centers help to compensate for hearing difficulty, devices can be made that take advantage of this natural rewriting, helping to further clarify voices amidst background noise.

In the immediate future, more research will need to be done to expand upon the results of this study. But by building off of the brain's natural processes, scientists should be able to significantly increase the hearing ability of seniors and other people with hearing loss, dramatically improving the quality of life for these individuals.

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!

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