How can auditory training help those with hearing aids?

Individuals both young and old have been known to experience various levels of hearing loss globally. Studies have shown that not only does this affect quality of life, but it also can result in communication issues that can lead to social isolation, depression, and other mental health issues. This is why it’s imperative to address hearing issues when they occur, and to utilise relevant hearing supports and interventions in order to alleviate the impairment’s effect on the individual’s day to day life. This can range from regular hearing tests, the provision of hearing aids, surgery and, perhaps of note, can also require the usage of auditory training.

But what is auditory training? How does it help individuals with hearing impairments to learn how to communicate in different, hearing loss-relevant ways? Below, we’ve got the ins and outs of auditory training, so you can decide if it’s the right pathway for you.

An introduction to auditory training

When one thinks of hearing loss, it’s often with a focus on the ears, whether it’s sensorineural, conductive, or even a mixed type of hearing loss. But while we do hear with our ears, it’s important to remember that the brain is what we use to process these sounds and make sense of what we’re hearing on the day-to-day.

Auditory training refers to the development of active listening skills that focus on various auditory stimuli, helping to improve auditory skills for both young and old individuals with hearing impairments. Its main aim is to enable an individual who is living with hearing loss to be able to hear and actively communicate according to their current hearing capabilities. Studies have shown that auditory training helps to improve speech perception and auditory communication skills that in turn benefit those who use it in conjunction with sensory rehabilitation, such as hearing aids.

While hearing aids are a popular intervention for those with hearing loss, they may not be a holistic solution to communication issues that hearing impaired individuals experience. Studies have shown that the usage of hearing aids, especially with the elderly population, only slightly alleviates the struggle that occurs when trying to communicate in loud places or difficult listening situations. This is because hearing aids exist to amplify sound, but the brain may struggle to interpret it appropriately. This may especially be the case for the elderly population, who may already be experiencing a decline in their cognitive abilities, such as in memory performance, speed of processing, and executive functions that are integral to smooth communication on the day-to-day.

This decline in cognitive ability is known to occur in individuals who are experiencing peripheral and/or central hearing loss, and this is where auditory training can help, as it focuses specifically on training the brain to better comprehend sounds and stimuli, regardless of age.

Types of auditory training

Auditory training focuses on training the brain in three specific areas in order to help your brain process and interpret audio stimuli.

Auditory working memory

This refers to one’s ability to refer to a word, its meaning, and its linguistic context by keeping words in short-term memory for quicker processing. Individuals experiencing cognitive decline also experience a decline in working memory, which can negatively affect their understanding of speech.

Auditory processing speed

This refers to the learned ability to recognise speech quickly, and is integral to ensuring that individuals understand what is being communicated to them in everyday conversation where each word follows another one, and requires the listener to recognise and process strings of words quickly.

For reference, the average person speaks about 150 words per minute in a conversation. Older individuals have a higher chance of struggling to keep up with this as auditory processing speed drops as we age, especially as the rate the average person speaks fluctuates from 120 to 180 words per minute.

Auditory attention

This refers to the ability for individuals to pick out meaningful sounds and speech in order to communicate, even in noisy spaces or with interfering background noise. This is especially difficult for those with hearing impairments who are utilising hearing aids, as most sounds, even background chatter in a noisy cafe or restaurant, are amplified for them, making it more difficult to focus on the conversation at hand. Auditory training focuses on being able to improve an individual’s ability to filter out unnecessary noises and stimuli in order to be able to focus on the relevant sounds.

Can auditory training help you?

The key factor that makes auditory training appealing is that it’s non-invasive and low-risk. For individuals who don’t have diagnosed hearing loss, yet still struggle to hear because of cognitive issues, auditory training can be a worthwhile endeavour when attempting to alleviate the issues and fatigue that come from being unable to communicate appropriately. This can show in situations such as struggling to hear in loud restaurants and even in quiet environments, misunderstanding complex statements and sentences, as well as finding it difficult to remember what’s been said to you because you’re trying to piece together parts of a puzzle, instead of being able to understand the entire statement all at once.

For those with diagnosed hearing loss, and who are already working with an audiologist or a hearing specialist in order to alleviate hearing issues and develop communication skills, auditory training may be a valid option for you to explore. While hearing aids are a life-changing auditory intervention, if you’re still struggling to hear in loud environments, find yourself asking people to repeat themselves regularly, or even feeling fatigued after simple conversations, you may need further intervention to find ways to improve your quality of life and alleviate fatigue.

Hearing loss is a complex issue, and oftentimes the best intervention is one that you and your hearing specialist have personalised for your unique needs. From hearing aids to auditory training, make sure to let your hearing specialist know if you’re struggling to adjust!