How Music Is Helping Adults to Hear Better in Noisy Environments

An increasing number of adults feel that noise levels are interfering with their ability to enjoy public places. A survey1 conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) questioned adults about their attitudes toward noise and discovered that most adults believe that society in general is becoming increasingly loud. In addition, the survey indicated that noise levels have harmed, or will harm, their hearing and that it changes how they participate in events and activities. These factors are leading some adults to seek ways to retrain their brain2 to hear speech in the middle of noisy environments and to find hearing aids3 that will help.

The ASHA survey of 1,000 adults found:

  • 41 percent of adults are concerned their hearing was harmed by noisy environments
    • increases to 62 percent for those with hearing difficulties
  • 51 percent worry that they may harm their hearing at future noisy events
    • increases to 63 percent for those with hearing difficulties
  • 43 percent say that noise levels prevent them from enjoying events
  • 66 percent believe society in general is getting noisier

These concerns have caused many people to seek quieter environments and less noisy activities…

  • 45 percent seek activities outside the home that are quiet
  • 27 percent have not returned to a particular venue because it was too noisy
  • 20 percent have left an activity because of the noise levels

… And are causing adults to think more carefully about venues and to question whether high noise levels are really necessary.

  • 45 percent want the volume of music and speakers reduced
  • 39 percent want venues to make design changes that reduce (or more effectively absorb) sound
  • 29 percent want the venue to provide earplugs or other hearing protection

Survey respondents believe that education is key to resolving society’s noise problem.

  • 70 percent want consumers educated about the health impact of noisy environments
  • 67 percent want venue owners educated about the health impact of high noise levels

Training the brain to hear conversations
It takes time for education to effect change and for noise mediation strategies to be implemented. In the meantime, some adults are seeking ways to retrain their brain to hear in noisy environments – through music. Last year, a unique study4 in Toronto tested how participating in music practice might help people hear better and differentiate speech from other noise.

The study was led by Frank Russo, a professor of psychology and director of the Science of Music, Auditory Research and Technology Lab, or SMART Lab, at Ryerson University in Toronto. He based his work on previous research5 that found that older musicians could hear speech in noisy environments more clearly than people who weren’t musicians. This occurred even though in general their hearing was no better than non-musicians.

As a result, Russo designed a study in which older adults joined a choir and practiced singing in order to determine if the music changed “how their brains processed speech in noisy environments”. Adults participated in sessions that involved a two-hour weekly rehearsal for ten weeks.

The results for choir participants would be studied in contrast to two control groups:

  1. Listening to music but not singing
  2. No participation in music groups of any kind

How can training the ear and the brain to music help to hear conversations in a noisy environment? Russo says that the brain can follow a particular voice by “locking onto its pitch and using its frequency as an anchor” for listening. If music can train the brain to follow a certain pitch in music, then it might also be able to follow a certain pitch in a person’s voice, helping the brain to follow the pitch of speech in the midst of noise. Based on his findings, music study may be a positive and productive new hobby for adults struggling to hear conversations in noisy restaurants and venues.

Advanced hearing aids identify speech in noisy environments
While scientists continue to discover how to better train the brain to listen, hearing aid technology can be used to augment and improve hearing. Leading audiologists provide the Oticon hearing aid to their patients because it provides the most advanced technology for speech recognition. Traditional hearing aids isolate speech from one speaker and suppress speech from all others. The technology used by Oticon allows the wearer to hear multiple speakers at one time. It does so by incorporating rapid processors into the hearing aid that analyze sound and “follow the dynamics of the soundscape to differentiate between speech and noise”. That is quite an advancement for people with hearing impairment; it means that they can hear multiple people participating in one conversation, instead of it sounding like a blurred din of noise.

Oticon OPN™ employs Bluetooth wireless technology that connects the hearing aid to smart phones for hands free calls and music streaming. A ConnectClip feature facilitates streaming sound from laptop or desktop computers and makes it easier to hear during audio/video calls on Skype and other platforms. The ConnectClip can also be handed to speakers located at a distance and used as a remote microphone to capture speech.

There are a wide variety of sizes and styles of Oticon hearing aids:

  • miniRITE: This is the smallest Oticon hearing aid. It sits discreetly behind the ear. The Opn miniRITE is made for iPhone®. A push button controls volume and listening programs. For mild to severe hearing loss.
  • miniRITE-T: The T stands for “telecoil”. This model incorporates wireless telecoil technology into the hearing aid. It can be used wherever there is loop sound, to deliver it directly to the hearing aid, such as public presentations, some movie theaters, etc.
  • Oticon Opn BTE13 Plus Power and the BTE 13 SP Dynamo: Designed for those with severe to profound hearing loss. These are the most powerful hearing aids Oticon makes and incorporate telecoil technology and wireless streaming capability.

There are many other Oticon hearing aid designs including a line designed to fit babies, toddlers, children, tweens and teens.

Noisy environments may not subside any time soon. However, new ways to train the brain to hear supported by advanced hearing aid technology make noise levels easier to navigate.
Together, hearing strategies and technology can help adults to enjoy more social events and activities without frustration. Sometimes noise can’t be avoided and the ability to hear clearly in those environments can expand one’s lifestyle, increase happiness and decrease the frustration that can come with hearing difficulties.

References
1: https://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/ASHA-Noisy-Environments-Poll-2017.pdf
2,4: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/05/31/530723021/like-brain-boot-camp-using-music-to-ease-hearing-loss
3: https://www.oticon.com/-/media/oticon-us/main/download-center/opn/brochures/14142—15555–evidence-brochure.pdf?la=en&hash=4EC0D265A5D9AEF169B360E121FB29A31B548092
5: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113938566