Can't hear? Try a game

An audio game helps people hear better even with hearing aids

Story highlights

  • Hearing aids amplify sound, but often they don't help when there's a lot of background noise
  • Adults who played the audio game correctly identified 25% more words in spoken sentences in high-noise environments

(CNN)If you avoid noisy restaurants because you can't hear your spouse or you have to turn your TV up so loud that the neighbors complain, you are not alone. Millions of Americans suffer from some form of hearing loss, and as you age, some loss is inevitable for many.

Hearing aids can help amplify sound, but this doesn't necessarily help you distinguish between words when there's a lot of background noise. So even with hearing aids you may still struggle to hear the details of your friends breakup over the salad course, if the table next to you is yucking it up.
    "Dissatisfaction with hearing aids can be high, largely, when they don't always help in real world situations like in noisy rooms," said Daniel Polley. Polley is an associate professor of Otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. He and a team of scientists have worked for 13 years developing an audio game they hope will improve people's hearing in real life. Results of their latest study are published in the latest Current Biology.
    You may joke that your inability to hear the boss has benefits, but hearing problems can hurt your overall health. "Not hearing can lead to social isolation and we know that social situations are a real lifeline to your emotional health," Polley said. "If your social world gets cut off that can lead to a broad spectrum of cognitive decline as you age."
    Instead of focusing on the ear, Polley and his colleagues' audio game targets the brain. That's because you don't merely hear sound with your ears, your brain makes sense of what you hear. Here's how it works: If someone near you calls out at a party, that sound will pass through your ears to tiny hair cells. Each sound carries