For many people with hearing challenges, trying to follow a conversation in a crowded restaurant or other noisy venue is a major struggle — even with hearing aids. Now, Mass. Eye and Ear researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 19th have some good news: time spent playing a specially designed, brain-training audio game could help.
A research team led by Daniel B. Polley, Ph.D., Director of the Lauer Tinnitus Research Center at Mass. Eye and Ear, has been working on this game for years. The technology is designed to improve our ability to hear and understand speech in noisy environments. To accomplish this, they use strategies from tasks that harness the auditory system’s ability to change, such as learning to play a musical instrument.
In the Current Biology report, the researchers showed that those who trained on the game were able to correctly identify 25 percent more words in challenging listening environments.
“Understanding speech in noise is a significant unmet need in hearing health care,” said first author Jonathon Whitton, Au.D., Ph.D. “People are having trouble understanding their friends and family members in restaurants and social gatherings. Unfortunately, many hearing devices can’t really address this, and in response, some people start to unplug from social settings. This fits into an important public health challenge of helping the elderly stay connected longer in life.”