Training Brains to Pick Out Soft Sounds
I do not doubt that we have all had the experience of asking of being asked to repeat ourselves, because there was so much noise that whatever was said, could not be understood. For those with some degree of hearing loss, noisy environments can be an ever greater problem. Researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard University have created a game though, that could improve our brains' ability to hear soft sounds in noisy environments.
The game works similar to the game 'hot and cold,' with auditory feedback giving the player cues for where a target is. The researchers tested the game on both human subjects as well as mice. The human's trained with the game for thirty minutes a day for a month and at the end showed a general improvement in their ability to listen to speech in a noise environment. The mice had the electrical activity of their brains recorded, and the researchers found that the brains changed in how they operated. Many neurons become very sensitive to the sounds of the game, making it easier to pick out the sound. The neurons also had an increased resistance to noise suppression, which means they had an overall improvement to hear faint sounds that would otherwise be drowned out by noise.
This research could very well be used to provide improved treatments for persons with hearing loss. While devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants already help these people, they have limited use in the noisy environments this and similar audiogames could train the brain for.