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Better Hearing Without A Hearing Aid

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Our noisy, stressful environment can hurt your hearing. But if you want to improve your hearing, researchers have found a do-it-yourself trick that can help.

The technique is to spend more time in the dark.

According to scientists at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, College Park, when you limit the amount of light you encounter, your brain, ears and connecting nerves react by heightening your listening abilities.

“In my opinion, the coolest aspect of our work is that the loss of one sense — vision — can augment the processing of the remaining sense, in this case, hearing, by altering the brain circuit, which is not easily done in adults,” says researcher Hey-Kyoung Lee. “By temporarily preventing vision, we may be able to engage the adult brain to now change the circuit to better process sound, which can be helpful for recovering sound perception in patients with cochlear implants for example.”

In a lab experiment, researchers found that animals in a dark environment had changed brain circuitry that apparently improved neural processing of sound.

“Our result would say that not having vision allows you to hear softer sounds and better discriminate pitch,” says Lee. “If you ever had to hear a familiar piece of music with a loud background noise, you would have noticed that sometimes it seems the beat or the melody is different, because some of the notes are lost with the background. Our work would suggest that if you don’t have vision you can now rescue these ‘lost’ notes to now appreciate the music as is.”

“We don’t know how many days a human would have to be in the dark to get this effect, and whether they would be willing to do that,” says researcher Patrick Kanold. “But there might be a way to use multi-sensory training to correct some sensory processing problems in humans.”

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