Sensitivity to Sound as We Age

Sensitivity to Sound as We Age

In Age Related Hearing Loss, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Paula Castanon

Paula Castanon

As we age, we may begin to notice our hearing changing along with everything else. This is not just your imagination but a natural part of aging. Sounds that used to not bother you may begin to be extremely irritating.  A recent study at Western University in Canada have found that our brains become more sensitive to sounds as we age, by exploring differences in the way younger and older adults respond to sounds.

How does the brain compensate for hearing loss?

One of the most interesting aspects of the brain is its ability to adapt and to change. The term neuroplasticity refers to changes in neural connections, pathways, and networks as a result of maturation and development, sensory deprivation, injury, disease, dysfunction, and learning. Neuroplasticity is a process which occurs at all levels of the neural pathways and throughout the entire lifespan. As hearing care professionals—whether our jobs involve activating a cochlear implant, fitting a hearing aid, or providing rehabilitation to adults or children to help them reach their optimum performance after intervention—neuroplasticity is at the heart of healing hearing loss. An article published in the Journal of Neuroscience said a study examined the auditory cortex of individuals in their 20s and their 60s and they had very different results.  This might explain, researchers said, why some individuals develop over-sensitivity to sounds.

Background noise Becomes Harder to Filter Out

Many people have trouble understanding conversations in noisy situations. Scientists are beginning to understand why. The distress people often feel struggling to discern what others are saying in crowded restaurants and business meetings is real. There’s growing evidence that the causes of problems processing speech amid noise are different than the causes of problems hearing sound. Scientists believe exposure to loud noises can erode the brain’s ability to listen selectively and decode words, without causing traditional hearing damage. Difficulty understanding speech amid noise can set in long before traditional hearing loss.

Another component of age-related hearing loss is a reduction in our ability to detect small differences in pauses of sounds in speech. This difficulty in identifying when a sound is or is not present is known as a timing problem. According to the study, “The average person can hear sound gaps of about 2 milliseconds apart, however someone with a timing problem may be anywhere from 2 to 50 times worse in detecting sound gaps, which are important for properly hearing speech. Conversation with a person who has a timing problem sounds like everything is spoken through a tube that leads to nowhere. One sound leads into the next, blurring all the words together.”

How Hearing Aids Can Help

If you have hearing loss in both ears, you need two aids so you can distinguish the source of sound and better filter out distractions. Modern hearing aid technology now allows you to choose among settings and filters that you may control with your phone, such as background noise reduction. This is known as digital signal processing (DSP), which is designed to identify background noise and lower its volume. Directional microphones within the unit are also standard. If you are attending a concert or class, for example, you could pick a setting that uses the microphones to focus on sounds coming from in front of you, rather than from behind.

Hearing aids have been proven to help filter out background noise and reduce sensitivity to sound. Using a hearing aid presents a number of advantages for a hearing-impaired person. First and foremost, you will hear much clearer. Hearing aids do not restore your hearing to normal, but they can improve it significantly. Not only do they help you hear better but they have been proven to increase earning power at work, slow cognitive decline and reduce tinnitus.  Most importantly they can help you live better in your golden years.

Get Your Hearing Tested Today

If you suspect that you are suffering from hearing loss but for some reason keep putting it off, today could be the day. The first step to making sure you keep your hearing where it needs to be is to make an appointment for a hearing test with us at All Ear Doctors. Contact us today to set up your hearing for an audible and healthy life!