Hearing loss is a problem among many different populations. For example, it’s normal for the elderly to experience moderate to severe hearing loss as they age. Veterans can also experience hearing loss after experiencing the intense noise routinely associated with battle, and this hearing loss can affect their ability to communicate normally and also diminish normal behavioral response to speech.
In other words, the less someone is able to hear the harder it is for them to communicate on several different levels.
Scientists studying this communication impairment are keenly interested in why it occurs and what can possibly be done to either prevent the problem or devise therapies to help remedy it.
One interesting study on the subject was published recently in the Official Journal of the American Auditory Society, EAR and HEARING. Using rats as their test subjects, they first trained one group to discriminate between speech and sounds, leaving a 2nd, untrained group as a control.
Both were then exposed to either high levels of noise or moderate levels for 4 continuous weeks.
After the noise exposure, the rats that had been pre-trained were better able to distinguish between speech sounds and stimuli than the rats that hadn’t received the pre-training. Also, the rats that were exposed to the high noise levels without the training had a much harder time discriminating between speech sounds and other noises.
Lastly, the study’s findings revealed that in both test groups the rats’ brains were altered but that those exposed to lower noise levels were able to more apt to adjust.
While it’s obvious that high noise levels can damage the ear and lower its ability to function, the study showed that training the brain before the auditory loss occurs may allow it to better adapt to hearing loss and increase speech processing, which would help people with hearing loss to better communicate.