Coronavirus Got You Stuck at Home? It’s a Good Time to Improve Your Hearing.

Social Isolation can get awfully boring. Many of us find ourselves with not much to do except anxiously watch TV. Here’s a suggestion: make the most of house arrest by tackling one the online auditory rehabilitation programs. virus-4835736_1920-1

Working on hearing better during this period has an added benefit. Since you are probably isolated and not talking to many people, it can help keep the hearing parts of your brain limber.

Essentially, rehab is a way to train your brain to recognize the signals coming via a hearing aid or cochlear implant as specific sounds: rehab focuses on speech sounds primarily, but also helps you to distinguish the sound of banging the lid on a trash can from the bark of a dog or a human shout. Here’s a good explanation from the HLAA website.)

Most of the online programs offer targeted training, like listening to music, as well as basic training that exposes the listener to speech in noise, gradually increasing the ratio of noise to speech. Training can teach you how to focus on one speaker when others are talking, how to retrieve the one word in a sentence you may have missed, how to improve speech-reading, and other general strategies for maximizing your hearing. These are all similar to clinician-based programs, but they are done at home.

After training, scientists can actually see differences in the way the brain responds to trained and untrained sounds, according to Kelly Tremblay, an audiologist and auditory neuroscientist, formerly on the faculty of the University of Washington and a member of the Board of Directors of the Hearing Loss Association of America. In her research, Dr. Tremblay has shown that it doesn’t really matter what specific type of training you do. There is no one-size-fits-all. Even passively listening to sound changes brain activity, including listening to recorded books.

Formal hearing rehabilitation programs are scarce. Fortunately, hearing rehab can be done at home on your own. Quite a few programs can be found online. Most are designed for recipients of cochlear implants, but they can also be useful for new and longtime hearing aid users.

One place to start is with the websites of the three companies licensed in the United States to provide cochlear implants. These programs are free: The Listening Room (Advanced Bionics), Soundscape (Med-El),  The Communication Corner (Cochlear).

Programs independent of the cochlear implant companies include Neurotone’s online LACE (Listening and Communication Enhancement) Listening Program, which was developed by two UCSF audiologists. LACE is available in three increasingly sophisticated levels, with programs for both PC and Mac, as well as DVD. The cost for the program varies but is generally less than $100.

Read My Quips (or RMQ ) is a kind of crossword puzzle. A man and a woman alternately recite lines that take an unexpected twist at the end. You listen as many times as necessary to fill in the crossword blanks. The idea is to be able to understand in louder and louder background noise. An article on the Starkey hearing-aid site is a useful guide to rehab and RMQ: Training the Brain: Hearing Aids and RMQ. (I’m including RMQ in this post because I enjoyed using it in the past, but I have been unable to sign on to their website, so it may no longer be available.)

For further reading, The website for Cochlear Americas also includes an excellent article, Cochlear Implant Rehabilitation: It’s Not Just for Kids! by Donna L. Sorkin and Nancy Caleffe-Schenk.  The Hearing Loss Association of America also offers a guide to listening training programs.

You can also read my 2018 post Learn How to Listen, which discusses some of these same technologies and a few others.

My two previous posts suggested ways for the deaf and hard of hearing to stay in touch  during this period: The first was Coronavirus Concerns for People with Hearing Loss: It’s Not Just the Disease).  The second, written as the pandemic worsened and rules for social isolation quickly changed, was I Take It All Back!

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For more about living with hearing loss, read my books, available at Amazon.com and maybe at your favorite bookstore or library. If they’re not there, ask for them.