How Does Auditory Training Help?

How does auditory training help?  It addresses the three key factors in our ability to understand each other:  processing speed, memory, and the presence of distractors[1].  Let’s take a look at each one in more detail and how they impact our ability to understand what is going on around us. 

Processing Speed: 

A key change in our brain as we get older is that our processing speed slows down[2].  

A slowdown in processing speed affects our ability to hear in challenging listening environments—even for people with normal hearing.   I emphasize even for people with normal hearing because some people believe that the hearing aids alone should provide the benefits that they are seeking, without any work on their part.   But even older adults with normal hearing have difficulty in challenging listening environments, so hearing aids are not the whole solution.

Memory:

When we want to remember something we must hear it clearly.  A memory can be only as clear as its original signal.  As a result, hearing loss can affect memory.  A study found that people with mild hearing loss had significantly poorer recall for compared to their normally-hearing peers of the same age[3].  There is evidence that a slowdown in brain processing speed also affects memory[4]

The presence of distractors:

The third key factor that affects how we understand each other is the presence of distractors.  Background noise is a menacing distractor. 

There is another key change in our brain that happens as we get older, that affects our ability to hear in challenging listening environments—even for people with normal hearing.  As we get older, we require a more favourable listening environment than younger adults do[5].  

Specifically, we have difficulty understanding in noisier listening environments.  In a noisy restaurant we might notice that we can hear what people say, but we can’t understand them.  And remember, this is also true for older adults with normal hearing:  so hearing loss is not the only culprit (and hearing aids are not the whole solution!). 

So, here it is, in a nutshell:  brain processing speed slows as we age.  Brain processing speed and hearing loss impacts our ability to remember and recall.   We also have difficulty in noisier listening environments.  What can we do about this? The good news is:  processing speed, and memory, and our ability to hear in noisy situations can improve with auditory training.




[1] Van Der Linden, M., Hupet, M., Feyereisen, P., Schelstraete, M.-A., Bestgen, Y., Bruyer, R., et al. (1999). Cognitive Mediators of Age-Related Differences in Language Comprehension and Verbal Memory Performance. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition , 6, 32-55.

[2] Diamond, B. D., Rosenthal, D., Vlad, R., Davis, K., Lucas, G., Noskin, O., et al. (2000). Information Processing in Older Versus Younger Adults: Accuracy Versus Speed. International Journal of Rehabilitation and Health , 5 (1), 55-64.

[3] Rabbitt, P. (1990). Mild Hearing Loss Can Cause Apparent Memory Failures Which Increase With Age and Reduce with IQ. Acta Otolaryngol Suppl , 476, 167-75.

[4] Mayo Clinic. (2009, February 11). Improving Brain Processing Speed Helps Memory. Retrieved November 12, 2010, from ScienceDaily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090210162039.htm

[5] Dubno, J., Dirks, D., & Morgan, D. (1984). Effects of age and mld hearing loss on speech recognition in noise. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America , 76 (1), 87-96.

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