Speech understanding is one of the main issues that people experience with hearing loss. Patients often say, “I can hear people talking, but I can’t understand what they are saying!” So, why does this problem occur?
One of the main reasons is the configuration of the patients hearing loss. For most patients who have hearing loss due to age-related changes, the hearing loss is primarily in the high-frequency sounds and hearing loss in the low-frequencies is usually better. The vowel sounds are in the low frequencies and alert us when speech is present. The consonant sounds of speech are present in the high-frequencies and are what we need to hear in order for us to distinguish between words. For example, distinguishing the words, “pearl” from “girl” or “fat” from “pat”. We need to hear the consonant sounds in order to hear the words correctly. If you don’t hear them well, you could be hearing a very different message from what it should be. We need to hear the high-frequencies for speech clarity. Without them, speech may sound muffled and unclear.
Another reason why this problem occurs is because with increased hearing loss, the connections between your ears and the brain may degrade as well. With hearing devices, your ears receive the speech signal, but it has to travel to your brain to interpret the message. If there is damage beyond the ear, your brain is not receiving the appropriate signal and therefore has trouble interpreting what is being said. This problem is difficult to correct with hearing devices which is why hearing devices are not 100% perfect. Hearing devices help you ears receive the signal, but it is up to your brain to interpret that signal into a meaningful message. Therefore, it is important to have the best technology available so that your brain receives the clearest signal possible. This will improve not only your hearing, but improve your ability to understand speech even in difficult listening environments.
Authored by Jenilee Pulido, Au.D.
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