Hearing loss most often physically occurs in the ear but also affects our brain and how we interpret and understand sounds, especially speech sounds. The use of hearings aids and cochlear implants help us to detect sounds easier but it is important to help re-train the brain to better understand sounds and make sense of the information sent through the devices.
For us to optimally understand conversation, our working memory is used to recall words and their context. Also, when a hearing loss is present, our brains have a hard time understanding the conversation because they cannot accurately interpret the information fast enough. Both of these characteristics have also been shown to decrease as we age.
Those with even a mild hearing loss and good speech understanding have experienced difficulty hearing conversations in noise. The hearing loss is causing ours brain to work harder to filter out the pertinent speech information from the background noise.
Auditory training is also referred to as “aural rehabilitation” and “hearing exercises”. The goal of auditory training is to help improve working memory and increase auditory processing speed. Hearing aid users who practiced auditory training, specifically hearing speech against background noise, for 3 hours a week were able to correctly identify 25% more words in sentences than when they started. It may be time to consider auditory training if any of the following applies when also wearing devices:
- You are still avoiding noisy restaurants
- You are asking family members to repeat themselves more often
- Feeling fatigued after a conversation or being in a noisy listening environment
Auditory training can be done at home with a program set up by your audiologist or completed through apps available on smartphones, tablets, and computers. These programs are designed to act like a game so it is interactive and fun to do. Examples of some apps are:
- Hear Coach
If downloading an app isn’t the user’s preference, other ideas for auditory training include listening to audiobooks and having practice conversations with family members.