New Approach to Treating Age-Related Hearing Loss
Johns Hopkins study shows noisy environments decreases auditory detection in old mice
Difficulty hearing in noisy environments has been a hallmark of age-related hearing loss.
A recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that the inability to filter out background noise may be due to too many brain cells firing at once.
The longstanding belief among scientists is that age-related hearing loss is a consequence of hair cells in the inner ear becoming damaged or destroyed as we age.
However, these new findings suggest that the brain may be a bigger factor in this condition, which may open new avenues for treatment by retraining the brain.
The study was conducted by recording neurons in the auditory cortex of the brain region for both young and old mice. These mice were conditioned to perform an exercise upon hearing a tone. The experiment then tested these mice by playing the tone with and without ambient background noise.
The researchers found that older mice performed about the same as younger mice without white noise, however, they performed much worse with background noise. The older mice were also more likely to perform the exercise without the tone.
The researchers then examined the auditory neurons of the mice during the hearing tests. Where the younger mice showed that certain neurons fired while others turned off in the presence of ambient noise, the neurons in the older mice failed to do so.
These results shed new light on why it is more difficult to distinguish between different sounds in a noisy sound landscape as we age, with the brain being the major contributor on the inability to filter out background noise.
While more research is needed, this study does suggest a possible pathway for treatment in the future. With the human brain’s flexible learning potential, it may be possible to retraining the brain to reduce the activity of these neurons when exposed to ambient noise.
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