Difficulty in Understanding Speech in Background Noise?

LISTEN UP: Understanding in background noise is back!

PATIENTS frequently complain of ‘being able to hear but not understand’ what is being said when in a social gathering or when a family member speaks from another room.

The most common cause for this is hearing loss; something that many of us are reluctant to acknowledge.

Due to the design of the cochlear (the inner ear where nerve impulses are first detected) the first part of the speech spectrum that is most often affected are the sibilant sounds such as ‘p’, ‘t’, ‘f’, ‘s’ and ‘th’.

Unfortunately consonants carry most of the important information. With a ‘high pitched’ hearing problem it difficult to tell the difference between words like ‘cat’ and ‘cap’ ; ‘sit’ and ‘sip’.

For those with a high frequency loss, understanding in noise is hard work due to the unwanted low pitch sounds (loud vowel sounds ‘ah’, ‘or’, ‘ee’, ‘uh’) smothering the softer, high pitch consonants that contain critical information.

A second problem encountered by this group I have termed the ‘wedding reception syndrome’… at a wedding reception you will notice 18-35 year olds happily conversing whilst sitting close to the source of the music; the 35-55 year olds sit further away and those over 55 are at the back of the hall trying catch snippets of conversation. But surely, if the older group are experiencing some hearing loss they should change places with the youngest group.

This is a simple explanation of ‘loudness recruitment’. We have a number of filtering mechanisms which prevent the brain from an overload of unimportant audiological information such as the fridge, traffic and for those who live near railway lines, trains. The limbic system plays an important role in keeping us sane and safe. We don’t hear the rustling of our pillow when we move in our sleep but we are instantly awake when something unusual is heard downstairs.

As we age, some hearing loss is inevitable. It can be exacerbated by events in our life; noise, medication, illnesses etc. To overcome this hearing loss the limbic system begins to open its filtering mechanism to allow more sound in to compensate for the loss. Unfortunately this also leads to unwanted loud noise having an almost debilitating effect on the us. For example; when a baby screams it is almost unbearable for the person with a hearing loss but the baby’s mother seems unperturbed by it and she has the child on her hip!

In the past, wearing a hearing aid to compensate for hearing loss often resulted in hearing discomfort due to perceived levels of loudness. Thankfully, the latest hearing systems now use incredibly fast and powerful computer processors. I currently use a processor with 16 million transistors! What does this mean to you?? The ‘Holy Grail’ in audiological terms, is now within reach.

For more information or an appointment with Peter Ormrod, specialist audiologist at The Bodyworks Clinic, call 952 883 151 or visit www.TheBodyworksClinic.com

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