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Part of brain that adapts to hearing loss identified

Researchers say the new understanding of the brain will help develop a program to improve older adults' hearing.

By Stephen Feller
Part of brain that adapts to hearing loss identified
Researchers say parts of the frontal cortex compensate as other parts of the brain responsible for hearing decline over time, new knowledge which may help in the development of better hearing aids. Photo by JPC-PROD/Shutterstock

TORONTO, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- Although researchers understood that as parts of the brain responsible for hearing age and decline, other parts of the brain pick up the slack. Until now, however, they were not sure what parts those were.

New research in Canada found parts of the brain responsible for speech compensate for declines in the function of the peripheral and central auditory system, suggesting better methods can be designed for improving hearing loss among older people.

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Hearing loss affects 90 percent of seniors over age 80, interfering with their social lives and quality of life. Researchers say knowing the part of the brain taking over the job of hearing can help with assistive programs for seniors and better hearing aids.

"If you have impaired hearing, you try to correct that with a hearing aid or assistive listening devices, but it can be difficult to tweak the mechanical aspect to zoom in on a person's voice," Dr. Claude Alain, assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences, said in a press release. "By showing there are other brain areas that affect hearing you can design training programs that target these brain areas to see if we can improve their use."

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For the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers analyzed the brain activity of 16 young adults and 16 older adults, observing their ability to identify syllables while noise levels changed during a hearing test.

The experiments found that as the peripheral and central auditory systems decline in function, the brain's speech motor areas in the frontal cortex pick up the slack to help people identify speech out of the noise of life.

Alain, who has spent the last several years developing a prototype auditory training program to help older adults tell the difference between noise and speech said the research will help him incorporate additional visual or location cues.

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