27Sep2015

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How does our ability to distinguish speech impact hearing loss?

Posted on Sep 27, 2015

Have you ever wondered how if you're having a conversation in a noisy situation, with a little effort, you can still make out what is being said? 

The ability to distinguish the sound of a human voice from the background is an innate ability often described as speech in noise perception (SIN). However, as we age, this ability often begins to fade, particularly with the onset of presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. 

This can make it tricky to follow a conversation in busy places such as restaurants and shopping malls, understandably causing frustration for the estimated 40-50 per cent of people aged over 751 who experience this phenomenon. 

However, it is hoped that, by studying SIN, we will be able to get one step closer to discovering an effective way to prevent or delay presbycusis. 

Music and SIN 

Researchers from Northwestern University have enlisted the help of musicians to discover whether musical training could be beneficial in prolonging SIN for older people.

By examining participants' Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) while listening to music, it was found that those who had studied music produced brain waves that more closely mirrored the incoming sound waves compared to the ABR results of those who'd not had such training2

"As a musician, you have to be pulling out the harmony line, the melody line. You're listening for details in a complex soundscape," explains Dr Nina Kraus, in a video for the National Science Foundation. "And this is not all that different from pulling out your friend's voice in a noisy restaurant."

Research into this specific area of hearing is ongoing, but it is hoped that further discoveries could indicate whether learning to play an instrument would help support our hearing into old age. 

If you know someone who could benefit from a hearing device, or believe that you may have a hearing problem, click here or call 1300 308 125 to request a FREE* appointment with your local HEARINGLife clinic.

1NIDCD, Presbycusis. Accessed September 23, 2015.

2NSF, How musical training affects older adults' speech perception in a noisy environment. Accessed September 23, 2015.

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