Want to Improve Your Hearing? There's an App for That!

For those with hearing loss, being fitted with hearing aids is only the first step in the healing process. While the smart technology available on today’s hearing aids makes it easier to communicate with others and interact with their personal devices, true hearing restoration results when the patient works to strengthen their hearing through training exercises and activities, like brain games.

An October 2017 study published in Current Biology found that elderly adults fitted with hearing aids performed better in conversations after spending 3.5 hours a week for eight weeks strengthening their hearing using a computer game designed to test communication skills. A second placebo group asked to complete memory games that did not activate hearing abilities did not show similar improvement.

Rather than being asked to identify parts of speech in a conversation, the first listening group was presented with fragments of musical pieces that had been filtered into background noise. Players completed the game by identifying changes in the texture and pitch of the musical tones, a task that challenged them to strain their listening and focus intensely on the presented sound environment. The dense layers of music are known to stimulate many regions of the brain, making it a great tool for hearing restoration training.

These types of games are especially effective when it comes to combating the notorious Cocktail Party phenomenon experienced by those with hearing loss. This occurs in a crowded space such as a restaurant, where it can be difficult for someone with hearing difficulty to distinguish the background noise from the sound of the person speaking to them. This unfortunate side effect of hearing loss is often frustrating and creates a sense of social alienation, which can lead to depression and anxiety.

The findings of this study are particularly surprising given some of the most current research regarding games designed to improve cognition. App stores are filled with games that promise higher levels of concentration, memory retention, reading speed, and more. Time and again, clinical studies have shown that these claims are greatly exaggerated. For this reason, the success of these auditory listening programs must continue to be researched in order to further help those with hearing loss.

While the Currrent Biology study was relatively small, it demonstrates that active listening is crucial when it comes to hearing restoration. If you have been fitted with hearing aids, you should make an effort to implement regular listening exercises into your daily routine. By paying careful attention to your environment and working the parts of your brain that have been weakened by hearing loss, you may notice a change in how much you hear and understand of the world around you.