Photo credit: Pixabay
by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
The Scitech Daily reported on what it calls the “neurological secrets” behind hearing in noisy surroundings. It’s difficult for many mid-life and older people to follow one conversation among many in a noisy environment, like in a busy restaurant. This difficulty is called the “speech-in-noise” problem. It is thought to be the result of hidden hearing loss caused by noise damage to cochlear synapses, the neurological connections between the cochlear hair cell (the basic organ of hearing) and the auditory nerve. This is named hidden hearing loss because standard hearing tests are normal but the patient still complains that they can’t understand what people are saying in a noisy place.
Researchers at Columbia University recorded neural activity from implanted electrodes of epilepsy patients while they underwent brain surgery. They found that the brain encodes speech differently depending on how clear it is and whether the listener is focusing on it. The researchers differentiate between “glimpsed” speech — paying attention to a single voice, which was sometimes louder than another voice — and “masked” speech, when the single voice was quieter than the other voice. These findings might help improve experimental brain-controlled hearing aids. Current hearing aids don’t help much with speech-in-noise difficulty because they amplify all sounds.
Of course, we think it’s much better to avoid the development of speech-in-noise difficulty by preventing auditory damage. If something sounds loud, it’s too loud and the listener’s auditory health is at risk. Turn down the volume, insert earplugs or leave the noisy environment to protect your hearing.