As we age, the ability to process sound in noisy environments often starts to decline. This can be from a gradual decline in hearing, often in the higher pitches. But for some people, their hearing in quiet settings is normal, but background noise presents a huge challenge. This is called hidden hearing loss, and more and more research is focusing on why it happens and what can be done about it.
The main thing to remember is that what can damage your ears, can damage the way you process sound. Even before noise damage shows up on your hearing test, changes start to happen behind the scenes that affect how well you can hear in noisy settings. Similar changes can also occur with age related hearing loss. Sometimes we see older adults with perfectly normal hearing sensitivity, but who report significant trouble hearing in every day life. This is hidden hearing loss.
New research is looking into what we can do about this. Of course, consistently protecting your hearing from damaging noise levels is very important. But what else can be done? Interestingly, musical training may help preserve, and maybe even improve, your ability to hear in background noise. This doesn’t mean you have to be a professional musician. The main thing is practicing every day, ideally, with an instrument that requires complex activities (e.g. anything with two hands). We also recommend having your hearing tested by your audiologist every one to two years. A loss of hearing sensitivity can happen on top of hidden hearing loss, so treating this early can also help preserve your ability to process sound in background noise.