July 25, 2022

Why Do I Hear, But Do Not Understand?

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Why Do I Hear, But Do Not Understand?

A common complaint among people who experience hearing loss is, “I can hear, but I can’t understand.”

For this reason, you’ll see people turn up the volume on their devices, from their TVs to car stereos, with the hope that amplified sound will make it easier to hear. According to surveys conducted by the Better Hearing Institute, it takes an average of seven years from the time a person first recognizes they might be experiencing hearing loss, until they decide to get tested. Often times, as hearing loss gradually gets worse, people learn new ways to adapt to the sounds and speech patterns around them. Some people get better at reading lips or social cues.

Unfortunately, all of these coping mechanisms may help us get by on the surface level, but they do not help us get to the root of the issue.

All That Background Noise

Did you know that hearing happens in the brain? For a moment, consider our brains in this computer analogy. With computers, there are programs that run in the background unbeknownst to users, but they are crucial to the computer’s processing and operation. Likewise, our ears are taking in the countless sounds from our environment, which are then processed in our brains to make sense of our surroundings.

With hearing loss, our ears take in less information, and over time, the parts of our brains that are processing and storing this sonic data begin to slow. When people wait for a long stretch of time to treat hearing loss, this “background program,” so to speak, becomes stagnant.

At the same time, researchers have identified a potential link between hearing loss and dementia. With untreated hearing loss, the brain struggles to hear and make sense of sounds and speech, leading to a “cognitive load,” which tires out certain cognitive functions. As a result, people with untreated hearing loss may lose some of their speech comprehension abilities.

In other words, while we do technically “hear” sounds, our brains with hearing loss are not accurately processing and registering these sounds.

Addressing Hearing Loss

With most forms of hearing loss, speech recognition is a major difficulty. For this reason, people tend to avoid social situations and conversations when they struggle with hearing loss. Over time, untreated hearing loss could potentially lead to social isolation, depression, and anxiety.

Speech audiometry, or speech discrimination, is a crucial part of the hearing test. During the hearing test, your audiologist at the Hearing Spa will determine your speech reception threshold by asking you to repeat a list of words. These words, spoken by your audiologist or playing over headphones, will vary in volume. The speech audiometry test will help your audiologist determine the degree and type of your hearing loss. It will also provide important information on the types of speech patterns and stimuli that may cause you difficulty or discomfort, which will determine the best technology to treat your hearing needs.

Hearing Aids Help You Hear – And Understand!

Many advanced, digital hearing aids on the market are designed to improve speech recognition, directionality, and focus. Hearing aids offer special features and programs that help you discern speech patterns, amplify specific voices in loud situations, and automatically adjust to varying frequencies of human voices.

Once you have been fitted with a hearing aid that is best for you, you may find that even though sounds are clearer, you still have difficulty understanding people while they talk. Keep in mind that the path to better hearing – and understanding – requires patience and practice. Even though the use of hearing aids allows you to take in sounds and process them better than before, remember that hearing actually happens in your brain.

Sound waves enter the ear, are amplified, and then are sent as electric signals to the brain, where they are registered as specific sounds and patterns. As you begin using your hearing aid, remember that your brain needs time to reboot the parts that have been stagnant before you treated your hearing loss. With patience and time to adapt, you will find that your speech recognition abilities will be revived as well.

Visit Us At The Hearing Spa

There’s no reason to struggle with speech and understanding! The Hearing Spa provides the best hearing care services, hearing loss treatment and hearing aids to improve your overall hearing health. If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing, contact us to schedule a hearing test and consultation.

Written by
Reviewed by
Dr. Victoria L. Moore
Lead Audiologist
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Dr. Victoria Moore (Vicky) serves as President as well as Lead Audiologist at The Hearing Spa. She moved to the USA from England in 1991 and has been serving the communities of Sarasota and Bradenton for over 20 years. Her independent audiology practice focuses on adult hearing loss, tinnitus management, as well as Cochlear Implant services.


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