“Breakthrough” research into how the brain processes sound to help support those with hearing loss
Oticon has announced new evidence that supports its research into opening up sound for people with hearing loss in order to support the brain’s natural hearing function, which could be pivotal in how hearing aids are created in the future in order to support people with hearing impairments.
Now, a number of studies using different test methods have concluded that the brain works better if it has access to all sound, Oticon outlines, challenging the way in which many traditional hearing technologies attempt to support hearing loss.
According to the hearing aid specialist, this new evidence shines a spotlight on Oticon’s BrainHearing philosophy and presents a “significant milestone” in hearing research.
“To date, we haven’t been clear on what occurs inside the auditory cortex, the brain’s main hearing centre,” said Thomas Behrens, Chief Audiologist of Oticon. “It has been a black box for all audiologists. A number of independent studies, as well as our own studies in cooperation with universities, have enlightened us on new basic brain function about how the brain processes sound.
“This is a significant milestone in hearing research and a breakthrough that gives us considerable insight into what is actually happening.”
Oticon’s research centre, Eriksholm, has completed a number of studies into how the brain processes sound.
The results were achieved using an EEG testing method, adding weight to independent studies which used MEG and Deep Electrodes to prove that the brain’s hearing system consists of two subsystems, labelled ‘orient hearing’ and ‘focus hearing’ for simplicity, which continuously and simultaneously work together to deliver the full sound picture so that the brain can work optimally.
While ’orient hearing’ picks up all surrounding sounds no matter their nature and direction, ‘focus hearing’ enables people to listen to specific points of interest filtering out irrelevant sounds, Oticon notes.
An individual’s hearing ability depends entirely on how these two subsystems work together, as it is only the sounds that are in focus that the brain can start interpreting for deeper meaning, as needed when understanding speech, the hearing aid specialist underlines.
The tests go on to show that in order for a person to focus appropriately, they must first receive the full perspective of the soundscape.
“Orient hearing always comes first when processing sound so that the brain has the best conditions to decide what to focus on and listen to,” Oticon outlined in a statement about the new research.
Oticon says that the various hearing studies collectively demonstrate that by suppressing the natural sound environment, the brain receives incomplete information. Furthermore, the studies suggest that the limiting approach to addressing hearing loss by conventional hearing aids means that the brain has to work even harder to fill in the gaps.
The increased effort the brain has to undergo in order to make sense of sound when there is a hearing loss has a variety of consequences, including accelerated cognitive decline and accelerated brain volume shrinkage. Failing to deliver the brain full sound input can cause the brain to reorganise its functionalities as it switches priority to visual stimulations, Oticon adds.
Thomas concluded: “Addressing hearing loss completely is fundamental to avoid hearing loss related health problems. If the brain isn’t fully supported to perform in a natural way, it compensates and changes, not to mention it experiences unnecessary stress.
“There is clear evidence that unaddressed hearing loss and the consequences for the brain leads to social isolation and depression, significantly increased risk of dementia, and more incidences of fall-related injuries.
“The new breakthrough hearing science provided by a series of recent research sends a clear signal that hearing loss should be addressed by helping the brain to get the full sound scene and not limit the sound it receives.
“We are really proud to be leading the charge with our BrainHearing™ research and will continue to innovate hearing technologies that support the brain and ultimately remove the limitations that hearing loss imposes for people with hearing loss.”