Background noise can make it difficult for people to distinguish amongst complex sounds—a difficult for people with healthy hearing, and a sometimes next-to-impossible task for people who are experiencing hearing loss. Background noise frequently occurs in places such as restaurants, on public transportation, at the grocery store, and even in your own home (for example, if you are having people over and the television is on). For people experiencing hearing loss, these complex sound environments make it really hard for the listener to create and understand hierarchies of sounds: what is the important thing to be hearing right now?
Difficulties with Hearing Loss
Background noise makes it hard to distinguish between multiple sounds in a room, but it also makes it hard to have seemingly direct, face-to-face conversations because it makes it difficult to identify the specific speech stylings of the people you are conversing with. So, a common refrain that people with hearing loss say in complex hearing environments is “I can hear, but it is difficult to understand what is being said.”
When people experiencing hearing loss are less able to make sense of background noise, they are less attuned to their surroundings, which can have dangerous outcomes. When all noise is processed with the same level of importance, people are less able to interpret changes in their environment. The sounds that signal dangerous events—for example, tires squealing, a dish being broken, or a person shouting—can go undetected and you subsequently do not respond appropriately (by, for example, jumping out of the way).
Improving Access to Sound
There are several ways, however, that you can help your ability to distinguish sounds in complex hearing environments, and you can better hear in noise. One of the easiest ways to reduce noise is to wear two hearing aids, even if you only have hearing loss in one ear. Wearing more than one device allows your brain to process sounds from multiple directions and multiple angles, and your amplified hearing from both sides of your body will eventually improve your brain’s ability to distinguish front and background noises. You can also change the style of hearing aid you use. Thanks to incredible developments in hearing aid technologies, we are now able to limit (somewhat) noise interference for hearing aid. The improvements in digital hearing aids are a bright spot for hearing aid users who are looking for relief from frustrating background noise.
Training Methods to Distinguish Speech and Noise
There has also been exciting research that suggests that people might be able to train themselves to distinguish background noise better. There are a handful of auditory training programs that use games and memorization activities to help you sharpen your cognitive and auditory skills, helping you hear better in complex environments. A 2011 study in the journal Cerebral Cortex found that one of these programs, the Listening and Communication Enhancement (LACE) program, showed “significant improvements in speech-in-noise” ability.
There are other, free activities you can do to help you focus in complex hearing environments as well. One hearing exercise that can help you sharpen your understanding of where sounds come from, or help you distinguish who or what is making the sounds, is to put play music on a speaker in in one area of the room. Next, play a different sound (such as the news) in a different area of the room. Turn the volume up on both speakers to create a noisy environment. The last step is to have someone walk about the room and read aloud from a book or newspaper. With your eyes closed, you with then repeat the sentences back to them. This exercise will force you to locate where in the room the person is speaking, and to also hone in on what exactly they are saying.
You can repeat similar exercises on apps that are made to enhance people’s abilities to hear in complex hearing environments. One app is called AB CLIX. This app has you work through drills that force you to practice distinguishing between words, and you can practice in both quiet and noisy environments. HAPPYNeuron is an app that has sound-focused games that help you remember, concentrate, and react sharply and with confidence.
There are many interactive ways to help you learn in complex hearing environments, but there are also quiet activities that you can do every day in your own home to increase your abilities to hear in noise. Regular meditation and yoga not only help still the mind, but can be opportunities for you to listen closely and quietly to your environment, allowing you to focus on distinguishing the sounds around you—not only helping you help your brain, but helping your overall wellbeing at the same time.
Exceptional Hearing Care
If you’ve been struggling with hearing loss, the most important step you can take to improve your access to speech in noise is to contact us. We provide comprehensive hearing tests and if there’s a need, we will pair you with a hearing solution that will bring significant benefits to your overall health and well-being!