Like a lot of people, I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, my hearing isn’t quite as good as it used to be.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that I drive my husband crazy by constantly saying, “What?” and “Can you please talk louder. I can’t hear you!”
Of course, I’ve noticed him doing the same thing and we’ve started joking that pretty soon neither of us will be able to hear a thing.
But, is declining hearing simply something we have to accept as the years pass? Or, is there something we can do to make it sharper?
Well, according to scientists at the University of Basel, there could be a simple answer…
Making pure sounds more precise
If like me, your hearing has suffered a bit with age, you’ve probably noticed that when you’re in an environment with a lot of background noise (like a crowded restaurant) it can be harder to hear the person sitting across from you — or even right next to you.
That’s because that type of background noise can make it harder to precisely distinguish sound patterns so that our brain can distinguish between relevant and less relevant information.
Weirdly enough, according to researchers, we can even have problems with our hearing in a quiet room thanks to nerve activity in the auditory cortex of our brain — the area that processes sounds — becoming overexcited.
This led them to wonder whether all types of noises around us make hearing more difficult or if certain types of noise can actually help us hear better, clearer, and sharper.
And, guess what…
They found that when white noise plays in the background, hearing actually becomes more precise.
Yup, the shooshing noise like you get when you turn on your sound machine at night could be the answer to your hearing difficulties!
How it works
According to the Basel team, the reason it works is simple…
White noise, unlike other types of sound, blocks the activity of the nerve cells in our auditory cortex. By calming them, you’re able to distinguish between different types of tones and your hearing becomes much clearer.
In fact, the team was able to demonstrate that the brain’s ability to distinguish subtle tone differences improved when white noise was added to the background. And, they found that compared to a quiet environment, white noise can help you hear better.
The results of their study were so impressive, they say that white noise could one day even be used in cochlear implants to help people with moderate to profound hearing loss.
So, if you find yourself saying, “Huh?” or have trouble hearing your favorite show on television, you might consider adding white noise to the mix.
Having a white noise machine running in the background while at the dining table with your family or while watching the movie you’ve been waiting to see could help you better distinguish sounds, enjoy your time, and keep you from worrying about what you’ve missed.
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- Good noise, bad noise: White noise improves hearing — University of Basel