One of the most common complaints expressed by patients to their audiologists concerns the difficulty they have when attempting to listen in the presence of background noise. This difficulty includes, but is not limited to, situations where one tries to carry on a conversation in a restaurant, while a TV is on, while water is running, or when attending a cocktail or dinner party. The added noise present in all of these situations can have a significant negative impact on one’s ability to understand and follow a conversation.
For many years, hearing aid manufacturers have focused on (and continue to invest in) improving hearing aid technology to help achieve better hearing in the presence of frustrating and distracting background noise. While hearing aids have certainly come a long way as far as the development of “hearing in noise” programs, many people with hearing loss continue to have significant difficulty hearing and understanding conversation in noise. Why is this so?
When an individual has a conversation with one other person in a quiet setting the most important factor in their ability to hear is audibility. In other words, can the listener hear the sounds of the other person’s voice in order to understand them? If you have a hearing loss, and are using hearing aids, then yes, in a quiet setting the hearing aids do provide audibility. However, when a conversation takes place in a crowded restaurant, audibility is only a part of being able to understand the conversation. When distracting background noise is present your brain has to perform a more complex processing task in order to understand what it hears. This portion of hearing is known as auditory processing.
It is known that an individual’s auditory processing ability changes throughout his or her life. At approximately 40 years of age, our auditory processing slowly begins to become less effective, but each person’s auditory processing changes differently. And of course, such changes are compounded when hearing loss is present. This is why it is so important for people with hearing loss to be aware of exactly what auditory processing is, and the approaches they can take to try to improve their own auditory processing skills.
Just as physical therapy can help muscles rebuild strength to regain or improve mobility, exercises in listening can improve auditory processing resulting in better understanding in difficult listening environments. Listening and Communication Enhancement or LACE, is a computer-based instructional tool designed to help individuals practice their auditory processing skills. The LACE program consists of a series of exercises developed by audiologists and engineers specifically to target those skills that can help adults improve their auditory processing.
LACE utilizes practice exercises in four specific categories: speech in noise, fast talkers, competing voices, and auditory memory. Within each of these categories the exercises become more difficult or easy depending on your performance and progress. So, as your improve your auditory processing skills, the tasks become more difficult. LACE also includes numerous pop-up “tips” designed to provide the user with helpful strategies and informational tidbits to improve your communication skills as well as provide additional information about hearing loss and hearing loss prevention.
The professional audiologists at Audiological Consultants of Atlanta encourage all of our patients to take an active role in their hearing rehabilitative process by visiting the LACE website at: http://www.neurotone.com/. When you visit this website you can learn about the LACE instructional program and download a free demonstration. The demonstration will allow you to sample some of the practice exercises in each of the four training categories noted above.
Research shows that auditory processing can significantly improve with the use of LACE. If you have hearing loss, LACE is most effective if used in conjunction with hearing aids. Don’t hesitate to ask our audiologists at Audiological Consultants of Atlanta about auditory processing and LACE.