Hearing: Beyond the Ears
Hearing: Beyond the Ears
A traditional hearing test evaluates the ears.
The ears are responsible for:
- Collecting sounds,
- Amplifying sounds,
- Organizing sounds, and then
- Transmitting the amplified and organized signal to the auditory nerve
While the ears do the hearing, however, the BRAIN does the LISTENING! It is once those sound signals hit the nerve that the magic really happens! The signals travel from the ear to the brainstem, the midbrain, then the auditory cortices, crossing from one side to the other multiple times and sending information up and down that chain.n (photo from www.clearliving.com)
The auditory cortex lives in the temporal lobe of the brain and each side does something different. The left side is responsible for things related to language and the right for things like tone and patterns. Together they work so that we can understand.
Understanding happens when we apply meaning to the sounds we have heard. We compare it to the history of all the sounds we heard before and determine what they are based on that. Once we understand we have emotional responses to those sounds and take action.
So what if all that isn’t working?
- What if along that chain from the ear to the temporal lobe there is an unexpected pause?
- What if there is damage to the part of the temporal lobe that helps us derive meaning?
- What if our memory is affected so we can’t associate the sounds with anything we have heard before?
- What if processing speed is slow so we can’t keep up with what we’re hearing?
- What happens when speech is too fast, spoken by someone with an unfamiliar accent or enveloped in noise and our brain can’t pull the important information out to be understood?
Communication breaks down. Learning is inhibited. Fatigue sets in. Frustration occurs by both the talker and the listener.
In most hearing practices, assessment stops at the ear. Does this make sense since we know that the magic really happens after the ear? No! Some audiologists do tests of all of those processes that help us understand what we hear which is also great! But what about those brain processes that help us to understand – memory, processing speed, reaction time?
We now have a way!
Cognivue is a computer-based test that is better than traditional written tests at detecting the earliest signs of mild cognitive impairment. It is a quick 6-minute screening test that involves watching a screen and moving a joystick. It is extremely easy to take and is not dependent on hearing. It is calibrated to rule out the impact of visual acuity problems and abnormal hand movements (shaky and/or weak).
Through early detection of and intervention for both hearing loss and mild cognitive impairment, we are working to improve our patients’ lives from the inside out.