Our senses keep us in touch with reality. They are our gateway to the outside world and are essential to our experience of reality. Take one of our senses away or even just diminish its quality, and suddenly, the world is not the same anymore.
Over 35 million adults in the U.S. suffer from meaningful hearing loss, which means they struggle to carry out a conversation. More than 25 percent of people over 65 require a hearing aid for normal daily functioning.
While hearing loss is not as life-altering as blindness is, it can have a detrimental impact on quality of life nonetheless. Once hearing starts noticeably deteriorating, many people tend to isolate themselves from social events to avoid the struggle and embarrassment of having to guess what other people are saying.
As a result, their social ties suffer and they begin living an isolated life, risking cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and depression.
Hearing aids are still the most common form of hearing loss treatment, though it doesn’t actually treat the problem. Assistive hearing devices simply amplify sounds, including not only the sounds you need to hear but also all the background noise. In cases where nerve damage is the cause of hearing impairment, hearing aids aren’t of much use, because despite making words louder, they can’t make them more clear.
To help people who suffer from hearing loss live their life to the fullest, researchers at Washington University developed a new computer program that trains the brain to listen more effectively through a game-like approach. The software is now available through the researchers’ company clEAR, which stands for “customized learning: Exercises for Aural Rehabilitation.”
The software aims to address the main concerns associated with diminished quality of hearing: confidence and ability to carry out a conversation in a noisy setting. The user trains their cognitive skills such as word memory, focus, and speed, which are key to speech comprehension, enabling the patient to process new sounds faster.
While traditional hearing training is dull and boring (the specialist repeats practice words over and over again), the software makes it fun by engaging the user through games like memory cards and slot machines. The trainees even get rewards like applause, coins, or diamonds for answering correctly.
The software focuses on the core 1,000 words we use most often in our daily life and helps to decipher words that sound alike. The background noise is present during the exercise to help the brain distinguish the words from the noise. The program also puts words in sentences and stories to make the training more interesting and meaningful.
But the key to success for this new approach, according to the researchers, is the emotional support. Patients can train with the voices of their friends and family members. Audiologists involved in the training process serve as coaches, providing positive feedback and guidance.
“That contact and support is critical, because they think that no one cares or understands what they are going through,” explained Tye-Murray.
So, if you’re not a fan of hearing aids or find they aren’t helping you as much as you need, there are other options available out there.
Related: 7 strange causes of hearing loss