Hearing and Concentration

A few years ago, my audiologist introduced to me to a new idea: developing good concentration skills might improve my hearing. He explained that those of us suffering from hearing loss struggle to hear in our noisy world. Aids, cochlear implants, and assistive devices all improve hearing but learning to concentrate by carefully listening to what is what is being said, learning how to put what you hear in context, and understanding body language is key to hearing better. He convinced me that honing these skills might make it easier for me to cope in our fast-paced hearing world. To say the least, I was intrigued. I set off on a journey to find the tools that would help me improve my ability to concentrate. Online, I discovered apps and a speech training course. My audiologist also suggested seeing a speech therapist.  I’ve worked with speech therapists twice. Both taught me focusing skills. However the time and energy involved in these sessions and in the “homework” that follows is exhausting. You learn to exercise your brain using various apps. You also learn to pay attention to a speaker’s body language, facial expressions, and learn to lip read. From visual cues and from what you hear, you construct a sentence based on the words or phrases that you do hear, keeping in mind context. Certainly someone who speaks rapidly with hands flying around is excited or upset. To understand exactly where they are coming from is a matter of piecing their words together with their facial expressions and body movements.

It takes practice and patience, and the knowing that there will be times when you will misunderstand the person in front of you. In spite of downfalls, and the times I’ve misinterpreted what was said to me, I find that this added way to hear has paid off. I feel that I’ve become more aware of a person’s body language and intonations. I believe these skills have helped me hear better in restaurants and at parties.  Keeping up good concentration skills is an ongoing process. To stay fresh, I work with apps like Luminosity and puzzles. Currently I’m taking a Tai Chi course. You wouldn’t think that would help, but as my instructor told me, learning the 124 movements of Chen Style Tai Chi and doing them in sync with a group trains your brain as much as your body. I also take a line dancing class. I’ve always loved music and dancing. The rigors of learning new steps and doing them in coordination with a group of men and women has forced me to pay attention. Doing something you feel is fun seems more like fun than exercise and hard work.

There are many opportunities to improve our concentration. In a quick internet search, I noticed audiology groups who offer these services using various internet tools. My audiologist now works in conjunction with a cochlear implant specialist. He tells me he’s adapting a training program used to rehabilitate cochlear implant patients so that it might be used by his patients who wear hearing aids or other assistive hearing devices. It’s an interactive hearing program meant to improve word recognition and concentration, a sort of bundled hearing rehab program. I can’t wait to try it!

There is more and more ongoing hearing research. Hearing specialists are discovering that our brain and ability to concentrate play a large role in hearing. Sound travels from our outer ears into our inner ears and then to the hearing centers of our brains where the real ability to hear begins. Some researchers are beginning to believe that the brain plays the largest role in our ability to hear.

I feel we’ve come very far during the forty years that I’ve been wearing hearing aids. As I meander through the hearing world, I see much hope for more technology and new tactics that will help all suffering from hearing loss to improve their hearing capabilities. Why not talk to your hearing specialize about ways that you could improve your ability to concentrate and thus your ability to hear.