Hearing is essential for us to communicate. But, hearing loss can limit our ability to interact with one another and it can cause decreased social engagement and, in some cases, may increase the rate of cognitive decline. Untreated hearing loss can cause significant physical, emotional and social problems in an individual’s life. This includes problems such as auditory deprivation, that is when the brain ‘un-learns’ how to hear well, and reduced quality of life. In a previous article, I shared that hearing loss can cause a reduction in speech understanding as well as reduced productivity and increased tiredness, reduced social interest, increased risk of cognitive decline and damage to auditory processing.
Hearing aids are used to address the problems caused by hearing loss as they provide amplification to make sounds more audible. Although, hearing aids alone do not overcome all the difficulties caused by hearing loss. Hearing aids on their own will not improve the processing very effectively. When a hearing aid is fitted, the brain and ears need to work together. If this does not happen the hearing results are limited. Hence why so many people are often unsatisfied with hearing aids alone. Hearing aids deliver sound – but the brain needs to interpret those sounds and understand the speech. Your brain and your ears are a team. Even though your ears can now hear the sounds again with hearing aids, your brain needs to be trained on how to process these sounds and make sense of them. Hearing aid users significantly benefit from auditory training to make the best use of their hearing aids and to train their brain to make the best use of what is heard. Ideally, this takes place just before a hearing aid is purchased.
Auditory training aims to improve a person with the ability to process the heard sounds and perceive information which is important for understanding speech. For this purpose, several programs have been developed – mostly in Europe. These programs train the listener to make better use of the available speech information in conversation. This is achieved by practising how to use your memory, attention, and auditory processing skills, which in turn will increase your listening accuracy.
Auditory training is a concept that has been utilised in Germany for over 25 years, however, in Australia, it is rarely provided. In Germany, where I grew up and did my training in audiology, auditory training is part of the rehabilitation process for every person that has hearing loss. Research has shown auditory training can help improve speech understanding as well as improved cognition and increased social interactions.
Here at EAR STUDIO, we have translated and re-developed a German application for the Australian language and market. This app can be downloaded on your smartphone and offers you auditory training throughout the initial hearing rehab phase. The app focuses on practising auditory skills such as detection, discrimination, identification, and comprehension of sounds. The program has been designed to improve your use of audible speech information, enhance your communication ability, increase the effectiveness of your hearing aids, and ultimately improve your quality of life.
It has been quite fascinating to see the differences in Audiology over the past two decades and across the three continents I have worked. In Germany, a client has to – by regulation – go through a thorough trial and training process before the purchase. This is to ensure the client receives an excellent hearing outcome and the provided hearing aids are fitted optimally. This already indicates that getting hearing aids is not – and should not be – a very quick process. I have long been trying to educate clients and clinicians that the actual hearing aid is not the only deciding factor. It’s like baking a cake. The ingredients for the cake do not decide how well the cake turns out. The recipe and baking time matter greatly – and if any of those are off you cannot expect a good cake. It’s the same with hearing aids. We need good hearing aids, good settings, a good training process and the time the device is worn to get the best outcome. In Australia, the focus has long been at the provision of the actual technology. I guess that is the reason why most clinics are owned by hearing aid manufacturers or large investment companies. But as I mentioned before, the hearing aid is only part of the solution.
At EAR STUDIO we run the German approach. We go through a specific fitting and trial process before the client decides on purchasing hearing devices. And from now on we finally offer Auditory Rehabilitation Training to strengthen the brains processing ability and make sure you get the best out of your hearing aids. If you have noticed that you are struggling to understand conversations, hear your loved ones talk or you are not satisfied with your hearing aids, see us at the EAR STUDIO in Castle Hill.
Contact Daniel on 02 9159 6122 to arrange an appointment to discuss how auditory training can help you.