CAHO Research Showcase at Queen's Park 2017

Training the brain to rehabilitate hearing loss

As we age, it becomes more difficult to hear all the words during conversations in loud restaurants or busy venues. When talking about hearing loss, we don’t usually think about the brain’s role in the problem, but it is an important part of the equation.

It’s why Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute senior scientist, Dr. Claude Alain, has developed a speech and noise training program that aims to treat hearing loss by improving the brain’s ability to listen in noisy environments.

MPPs and government officials had the opportunity to test Dr. Alain’s program and see real-time changes to their brain waves at a health research showcase organized at Queen’s Park on October 25. Baycrest was among 22 Ontario hospitals demonstrating their work at the event organized by the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario.

At least one in four adults over the age of 50 experience hearing problems and people will wait an average of 10 years before visiting an audiologist.

“Current technology can only amplify the sound in our ears, but our intervention targets improving the brain’s functionality, leading to less stress, isolation and depression among older adults,” says Dr. Alain, who is also a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Medical Science and the Department of Psychology. “People with hearing loss tend to have a harder time communicating and withdraw from social activities, which contributes to a higher risk of developing dementia.”

This work builds upon Dr. Alain’s research identifying the part of the brain that steps in to support hearing when other parts lose their functionality.

Currently, the software is undergoing validation. Initial results with a small sample of volunteers have shown improvements in everyday life.  

This work was completed in support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. With additional funding, researchers could run more tests and potentially develop an application for a wireless device, such as a smartphone or tablet.

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