Hearing With Your Brain

by Andrew Lekashman

 Source: www.tenor.com

Source: www.tenor.com

You may not realize this, but you don’t hear with your ears. The human ear is a complex mechanism that sends sounds to your brain, where you actually “hear” everything. Look at the animated image below of the power lines playing jump rope. This is an optical illusion for your ears as there is no actual sound, but most people report feeling a noise when the tower lands. The reason this is possible is because your ears are just a small part of how you hear.

So how do you hear anyway? It’s actually fairly simple - sound waves in the air enter your ear and vibrate small hair cells called stereocilia. The specific height and width of the hair cell determines what sound it is responsible for sending to your brain, which is why hearing loss occurs when these hairs are damaged. Your auditory nerve, a large nerve that connects the ear with the brain, receives all this sound information which your brain then interprets and filters.

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Aging and Hearing

Certain types of sounds are trickier for the brain to understand, with one of the most common difficult examples being busy crowds of people. When there is too much background noise, your natural instinct is to get closer to the person you want to understand and to focus closely on what they have to say. Being nearer to the sound source makes it easier to find what you want, which then requires less mental effort for you to hear. (https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/735/when-the-brain-not-the-ears-goes-hard-of-hearing.aspx)

They say old age brings wisdom, but it unfortunately also carries a set of challenges as well. When it comes to hearing, your brain slowing down is one of the biggest problems that is the hardest to help. If your brain isn’t able to focus properly, you won’t be able to listen when eating at busy restaurants or at family gatherings. Here are a list of things you can do to help your brain stay speedy and help keep your hearing.

5 Tips for Healthy Hearing

  1. Regularly exercise and spend time out in public

  2. Eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of Vitamin B-12 and folates (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/69/3/564.full)

  3. Use a hearing aid or assistive device that amplifies sounds

  4. Encourage people around you to use words that are easier to understand (https://www.hearingaidknow.com/words-difficult-to-understand-with-hearing-loss)

  5. Look people in the eye when talking with them to receive additional body language that helps communicate sound information.

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Communication is Key

Listening can be challenging for people everywhere, even for people in great health. Becoming a good listener involves learning to optimize a conversation from a technical perspective. First, cut out interruptions entirely - they can be extremely distracting and make hearing a challenge (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/plateau-effect-digital-gadget-distraction-attention/). Then instruct the other people you want to hear to speak slowly and clearly. Achieving these two goals may be very difficult as they require buy-in from others, but the payoff is huge - a less stressful discussion for everyone involved.

Recognizing that your ears are just a part of the hearing system is the first step. Communication is a very complicated process and to be a good communicator takes work and commitment. The fact is, the conversations that we have with friends, loved ones, co-workers, and teachers enrich our lives and give us a greater understanding of the world. To truly take advantage of your hearing, make sure that you speak to be understood and spend more time listening carefully to others.

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