The Connection Between Music and Mood

It’s commonly held that not only does music up your energy level, but that it helps you heal more quickly and significantly improves your mood. In fact, studies now show that music can either improve or reinforce your mood–which gives you a better quality of life.

University of Missouri researchers found that upbeat music is sometimes all it takes to boost a person’s mood. Their study showed that participants, who were told to improve their mood, felt happier after listening to the upbeat music of Copeland, as opposed to the more morose songs of Stravinsky. Interestingly, other participants who weren’t told to impove their mood did not experience a boost in happiness while listening to music. Summed up by one researcher, “People could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards happiness and not get hung up on the destination.” Happy or sad music even affects how we interpret neutral faces, according to the results of a recent study.

We can usually tell if a piece of music is particularly happy or sad, but this isn’t just a subjective idea that comes from how it makes us feel. Our brains actually respond differently to the happy and sad music, making the process much more subjective. The length of the piece of music is irrelevant. During the study, people were more likely to project happy or sad moods onto the neutral faces to match the short piece of music they were listening to. This also occurred with other facial expressions, but it happened most often with those that were more neutral.

Music doesn’t just affect our ability to read expressions: music such as ambient noise can improve creativity. Some people love loud music in the background while they organize their days, deciding what to do and when. But if you’re doing creative work, you may reconsider the loud music as background noise. In fact, creative tasks such as writing, painting, or building something are best set to music at a moderate noise level. Actually, even more than low noise levels, ambient noise apparently enhances creativity and doesn’t put us off the way high levels of noise do. This is because moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty, which in turn promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. In other words, when we struggle (but not too much) to process things as we normally would, we resort to more creative approaches. This is because loud noise overwhelms us and makes it too difficult to approach anything creatively–or at all.

So stick to moderate levels when you’re looking for heightened creativity, and choose more upbeat music to improve your mood–it truly works.

What Consumers Should Know About Hearing Aids Made for iPhone

Among smartphones, the iPhone stands out as an innovation leader. The latest innovation is a result of collaborations with several hearing aid manufacturers to create hearing aids and apps that are intended to work together. These are known as made for iPhone hearing aids. With a made for iPhone hearing aid, users can simply use an app to adjust the device. In addition, the iPhone delivers incoming audio such as phone calls and music or Siri’s responses right to the user’s hearing aid. Set up is easy as well – just treat the device like any other Bluetooth device. As Apple instructs, “In Settings, go to General, then Accessibility, then Hearing Aids, and iOS will automatically search for and recognize your device. Once your hearing aid is paired, it’s available to you as an audio source whenever you need it.” For users who have trouble hearing a conversation in a noisy area, Live Listen is a great iPhone feature that works with made for iPhone hearing aids. With Live Listen, one can use the phone’s microphone to hear the person speaking loud and clear.

The made for iPhone hearing aids available now include Audibel’s A3i, Audigy’s AGXsp, Beltone’s Beltone First, MicroTech’s Kinnect, NuEar’s iSDS, ReSound’s ReSound LiNX, and Starkey’s Halo. Choosing the right made for iPhone hearing aid can take some research and the assistance of a hearing care specialist. Each device has its own unique abilities and features. For example, Audibel’s A3i’s boasts “advanced noise reduction technology and a precise directional microphone”. If you’re the forgetful type, Audigy’s AGXsp boasts a GPS feature to help you find your hearing aids. The MicroTech’s Kinnect is compatible with your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices and easily streams music, Facetime phone calls, and much more. NuEar’s iSDS’s “patented technology replicates high-frequency sounds (like women’s and children’s voices) in lower frequencies where they’re easier to hear and understand.” Lastly, Starkey’s Halo’s “industry-leading feedback canceller provides feedback-free and comfortable listening all day long.”

Your hearing care specialist can help you sort through the options to find the perfect one for you.

Understanding the Basics of Echoes

If you’ve ever been inside a large canyon, you’ve probably observed the wonder of echoes firsthand-but how do they work? The echo occurs when a sound repeats itself, fading from loud to soft in seconds. The echo occurs because some of the sound waves in your shout reflect off of a surface (either the water at the bottom of the well or the canyon wall on the far side) and travel back to your ears. For a place to be able to produce echoes, it must have certain features. For one, the size of the obstacle/reflector must be large compared to the wavelength of the incident sound (for reflection of sound to take place). For another, the distance between the source of sound and the reflector should be at least 66 feet (so that the echo is heard distinctly after the original sound is over). Lastly, the intensity or loudness of the sound has to be sufficient for the reflected sound reaching the ear to be audible. The original sound should be of short duration.

The farther away the surface is, the longer it will take for the echo to come back to you. One could theoretically tell how far away an object is and how fast it is moving by an echo.For example, bats can tell the location and movement of moths using echolocation. The bat sends a sharp click or chirping sound, then hears and processes any echoes off other objects in the area. Bats have large ears that are very sensitive to sounds in certain wavelengths. Their brains also help by processing the distance from and the size of the object as well as how fast it is moving and where to. Using this echolocation, the bat finds moths easily in the pitch dark.

The dolphin is another mammal who uses echolocation. With what are called “phonic lips,” a dolphin makes clicking sounds. Almost all other mammals produce sounds by using their vocal cords–but not the dolphin. It instead uses its phonic lips to emit clicking sounds. The lips evolved from what was once the dolphin’s nose. The dolphin forces pressurized air through its phonic lips, and the air vibrates and comes out sounding like clicking. When the clicks bounce off of the object the dolphin is interested in (that is, when the echo occurs) the dolphin then gets a mental picture of that object.

What Is Spatial Loss of Hearing and How is it Treated?

The inability to distinguish spatial cues is known as spatial hearing loss. People with spatial loss of hearing find it difficult to tell who is speaking in a noisy room or where a certain sound is coming from. This condition prevents sufferers from cutting out background noise in crowded places such as restaurants and airports. Interestingly enough, spatial hearing loss does not stem from the ear. The brain is actually the culprit – the pathways that interpret sound are the root of spatial loss of hearing.

Spatial loss of hearing is especially common in children as well as adults over the age of 60. However, it can occur in anyone, regardless of age. This can be especially frustrating for children in school – they find it hard to differentiate the teacher’s voice from other noises in class.

Audiologists are able to diagnose spatial hearing disorder with a test called the Listen in Spatialized Noise-Sentences, or LiSN-S, test. The LisN-S test determines how a person uses pitch and spatial cues in order to pick out certain sounds from background noise. This lets the audiologist determine just how severe the person’s loss of spatial hearing is.

Spatial hearing loss does not always occur on its own. It is quite often accompanied by high-frequency and/or low-frequency hearing loss. These issues can be treated with hearing aids, which helps with the spatial loss of hearing as well. However, for some people with spatial deficiencies, typical hearing aids may only make the problem worse.

Spatial hearing loss happens often in older people, due to the natural aging process and subsequent damage to the audio nerve. Some aging-related causes of spatial hearing loss include injury, medications, vascular problems, or other medical conditions. If you notice sudden hearing loss within a twenty-four to seventy-two hour window, seek medical attention right away. Some forms of sudden hearing loss can be helped if its treated right away. Causes can be blockage, illness, or infection–all of which respond well to early treatment. If the sudden loss of hearing is not identified and treated quickly and is caused by infection or another underlying condition, it may result in permanently damaged auditory nerve pathways, ending with permanent deafness or spatial hearing loss.

If you experience sudden changes such as a unilateral loss of hearing, you are also at an increased risk of spatial hearing loss and should seek attention immediately. If you’re not sure if your hearing is changing, you should go get it tested right away.

A Primer on Swimmer’s Ear – Its Origins, Signs and Symptoms and Treatments

Swimmer’s ear, technically known as acute external otitis or otitis externa, is an infection that develops in the outer ear canal (the area outside your eardrum). The common name swimmer’s ear comes from the fact that the problem is frequently linked to swimming. Anytime water collects in the outer ear it results in a moist atmosphere where bacteria may grow. This condition is also caused by scratching or damaging the sensitive skin lining the ear canal by using your fingertips, cotton swabs, or other objects in an attempt to clean them. Fortunately swimmer’s ear is easily treated. If untreated, swimmer’s ear may cause serious complications therefore it is important to identify the signs and symptoms of the condition.

If the ear’s innate protection mechanisms are overloaded, the end result may be swimmer’s ear. Moisture in the ears, sensitivity reactions, and scratches to the ear canal lining can all promote the growth of bacteria, and cause infection. Activities that increase your likelihood of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming (especially in untreated water such as lakes), overly aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs, use of in-ear devices such as “ear buds” or hearing aids, and allergies.

Itching inside the ear, mild pain or discomfort that is worsened by pulling on the ear, redness and an odorless, clear fluid draining from the ear are all signs and symptoms of a mild case of swimmer’s ear. Moderate symptoms include more severe itching and pain and discharge of pus-like liquids. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. If left untreated, complications from swimmer’s ear can be quite serious. Complications might include short-term hearing loss

, long-term ear infections, deep tissue infections which may spread to other areas of the body, and cartilage or bone loss. The potential for severe complications implies that you should visit a doctor as soon as you suspect swimmer’s ear.

Swimmer’s ear can be diagnosed in an office visit after a visual exam

. They will also check at the same time to see if there is any damage to the eardrum itself. If swimmer’s ear is the problem, it is typically treated first by cleaning the ears very carefully, and then prescribing antibiotic or antifungal eardrops to fight the infection. If the infection has become widespread or serious, the physician may also prescribe oral antibiotics.

To prevent swimmer’s ear, dry your ears thoroughly after showering or swimming, avoid swimming in untreated water resources, and do not place foreign objects into your ears to clean them.

Chickens, Fish and Human Hearing Loss – New Research Into Regenerating Inner Ear Hair Cells

As hearing professionals, one of the frustrations we encounter in our practice is that the conditions that have caused hearing loss in our patients cannot be reversed. One of the primary causes of hearing loss, for example, is damage to the tiny hair cells in our inner ears that vibrate in reaction to sounds. These vibrations are then translated by the brain into what we think of as hearing.

The sensitivity of these tiny hair cells allows them to vibrate in such a manner, and thus makes it possible for us to hear, but their very sensitivity makes them very fragile, and prone to damage. The hair cells of the inner ear can sustain damage from exposure to loud noises (causing noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL), by certain medications, by infections, and by aging. Once these hair cells are damaged in human ears, science has to date not found any way to repair or “fix” them. Since we can’t reverse the damage, hearing specialists and audiologists look to technology instead. We compensate for hearing loss due to inner ear hair cell damage with hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Things would be a lot simpler if we humans were more like chickens and fish. That may seem like a peculiar statement, but it’s true, because – unlike humans – some fish and birds can regenerate the hair cells in their inner ears, thereby regaining their hearing once it has become lost. Chickens and zebra fish are just 2 examples of species that have the capacity to spontaneously replicate and replace their damaged inner ear hair cells, thus permitting them to fully recover from hearing loss

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While it is vital to state at the outset that the following research is in its beginning stages and that no practical benefits for humans have yet been achieved, sizeable advancements in the treatment of hearing loss may come in the future as the result of the innovative Hearing Restoration Project (HRP). Funded by a not-for-profit organization called the Hearing Health Foundation, this research is presently being conducted in 14 different labs in Canada and the United States.Working to isolate the molecules that allow the replication and regeneration in some animals, HRP researchers hope to find some way to enable human inner ear hair cells to do the same.

This research is painstaking and challenging. Researchers need to sift through the many molecules involved in the regeneration process – some of which facilitate replication while others inhibit it. Researchers are hoping that what they learn about hair cell regeneration in fish or avian cochlea can later be applied to humans. Some of the HRP researchers are pursuing gene therapies as a way to promote such regrowth, while others are working on using stem cells to accomplish the same goal.

Our entire staff extends to them our well wishes and hopes for their success, because absolutely nothing would thrill us more than being able to someday completely cure our clients’ hearing loss.

Should You Fix Your Old Hearing Aid or Should You Replace It?

One of our most frequently asked questions is, “My hearing aid is broken or is no longer working – should I replace it with a new one, or have it repaired?” The honest answer needs to be, “Depends.” It is really an individual choice, and the “correct answer” is as individual as the individuals who ask it.

The first thing to take into account is that all hearing aids – no matter how high-end they were or how well they were built – will sometimes start to function less effectively, or fail. They operate, after all, in an atmosphere (your ear canals) that is inhospitable to them because it contains moisture and ear wax. Ear wax is normal and essential because it guards the delicate lining of the outer ear, but it can be tough on hearing aids; moisture that stays in the ears after bathing or swimming can be even harder on them. Add to these 2 issues breakage (from unintentionally dropping the aids and natural wear and tear (as inner tubing or components degrade), and you can safely bet that at some point your hearing aid will require either replacement or repair.

One of the things that should most influence your choice to “replace or repair” is whether you like your current hearing aids. If you do, or you have gotten accustomed to the sound they produce( as many wearers of older analog hearing aids do), it might make more sense to have them repaired than to replace them with newer digital aids which could produce a very different sound or wearing experience.

A further thing to consider, obviously, is cost – brand new hearing aids may cost thousands of dollars, but fixing your present aids might cost only a few hundred dollars dependent on what is wrong with them. The part we cannot answer for you is the influence of insurance. Some insurance plans include replacements, but not repairs or have varying policies on partial or full coverage.

If you opt to have your hearing aids fixed, another question that arises is, “Should I take them to the store I purchased them from, or send them to one of the numerous repair labs who advertise on the Internet?” While you could decide to deal with a far off repair laboratory directly, your local audiologist is a tremendous resource. To begin with, they can determine if repairs are in fact necessary. Second, they may be able to get the repairs completed on site decreasing the length of time you do not have your hearing aid. For hearing aids which do need laboratory or manufacturer repairs, the clinic will coordinate all the communications and paperwork for you. Don’t assume the price will be higher for these added services, because audiologists deal with repair facilities in bulk.

Far more choices are available to those who elect to replace their existing hearing aids. You should be open-minded about new designs and technology understanding that anything new takes some getting used to. Newer hearing aids are more compact and provide enhanced programability to achieve the sound quality you prefer. The answer to the “replace or repair” question is still your responsibility, but we hope that the information we have provided will help you.

A Look at the Relationships Between Hearing Impairment and Reduction in Cognitive Function

If you suffer from some form of hearing impairment, do you ever find that listening to people speak is work, and that you have to try really hard to understand what people say? This is a phenomenon that happens even to people wearing hearing aids, because in order for them to perform well you have to have them fitted and tuned correctly, and then get used to using them.

Regrettably, the repercussions of this sensation may not be restricted to hearing loss; it may also be linked with declines in cognitive abilities. The latest studies have indicated that there is a solid association between hearing loss and your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.

A 16-year study of this relationship from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine included 639 participants ages 36 to 90. The data indicated that 58 study volunteers – 9% of the total – had developed dementia and 37 – 6 percent – had developed Alzheimer’s. The degree of hearing loss was positively correlated with the likelihood of developing either condition. For every 10 decibel further hearing loss, the risk of developing dementia went up by 20 percent.

A different research study of 1,984 people, also sixteen years in duration, demonstrated comparable results connecting hearing loss and dementia. In this second study, investigators also found decline of cognitive capabilities among the hearing-impaired over the course of the project. When compared with individuals with normal hearing, those with hearing loss developed memory loss 40% faster. An even more startling finding in both studies was that the link between hearing loss and dementia held true even if the individuals wore hearing aids.

A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain this seeming connection between hearing loss and loss of cognitive performance. One hypothesis is based on the question at the beginning of this article, and has been given the name cognitive overload. Some researchers think that if you are hearing impaired, your brain exhausts itself just trying to hear that it has a reduced capacity to understand what is being said. The resulting lack of comprehension may cause social isolation, a factor that has been demonstrated in other studies to lead to dementia. Another idea is that neither dementia nor hearing loss cause the other, but that they’re both related to an as-yet-undiscovered disease mechanism – possibly vascular, possibly genetic, possibly environmental – which causes both.

However dismal these study results may sound, there are things to be learned from them. For those of us who wear hearing aids, these results serve as a reminder to see our hearing specialists on a regular basis to keep the hearing aids properly fitted and programmed, so that we aren’t constantly straining to hear. The less work expended in the mechanics of hearing, the more brain power available for comprehension. Also, if hearing loss is related to dementia, knowing this may lead to interventional techniques that can delay its onset.

Preventing Future NIHL in Professional and Amateur Musicians

What do Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton, and Pete Townshend have in common, besides all being musicians? All of these musicians experienced – as a result of playing the music they love – permanent hearing loss.

When I treat musicians, I have to tell them a sad but unavoidable fact of life – the very music they love to play may be damaging their hearing. When a musician is exposed to loud music they can suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) which produces ringing in the ears, sometimes referred to as tinnitus. With similar ongoing exposure permanent hearing loss can result.

The hearing loss can happen to any musician, whether they play in a rock band, in a symphony orchestra, in a chamber music group, or just play at home when rehearsing. Any sound with an amplitude (volume) of over 85 decibels (dB) can cause hearing loss if you are exposed to it for long periods of time. While 85dB may sound like a high level of sound, even rehearsal situations can produce these levels. Rock musicians and classical alike are both exposed to excessive amplitude of sound; an unamplified violin reaches 103dB and an electric guitar produces 120dB. It has been estimated that musicians do more damage to their ears during the hours that they rehearse alone than they do in the short times they spend on stage.

Musicians can take steps to protect their hearing despite this unavoidable exposure to sound that exceeds acceptable levels, even in seemingly quiet rehearsal settings. When investing in high-quality ear protection beyond what can be had from drug-store Styrofoam ear plugs, performers can trust their hearing is protected. Manufactures of ear protection today still use the original and proven design first invented by Etymotic Research over 20 years ago. These musicians earphones are better for your purposes because they allow you to hear the full frequency range of both music and speech, but at lower volumes that don’t damage hearing.

Stores that sell musical instruments and supplies carry what are called universal-fit earplugs for about $15 per pair. Whether you are a professional musician or just someone who plays for fun, I recommend a better form of protection – custom-molded musicians earplugs with the Etymotic filter in place. Comfortable even with extended wear for long periods of time, custom-molded earplugs block undesirable sound allowing the music to come through undistorted and without damaging hearing. Yes, they’re more expensive than the earplugs sold in music stores, but since hearing damage is irreversible, how much is your ability to hear the music you play worth to you?

Why Hearing in Crowded Situations Might be Particularly Challenging for You

Our patients frequently ask us why they seem to have significantly greater difficulty hearing in busy spaces as compared to other situations. They report that they don’t seem to have any problem hearing people and understanding what they say when they are speaking to them one-on-one, or even in small groups. But in a crowd, such as a noisy party or in large public gatherings, suddenly it becomes difficult to understand what the person speaking to them is saying, or to distinguish the speaker’s voice from the background sounds. People who complain of this condition often report that they have difficulty distinguishing between consonants such as the letters “S,” “F,” and “H.”

If these challenges sounds familiar to you, it is possible that you have a degree of hearing loss in the high-frequency range. When describing human speech, audiologists define the 3000 to 8000 Hertz range as high-frequency. This is the range that the F, S, and H sounds typically fall into. In crowds, there is a mix of frequencies, ranging from the low frequencies of background music or people walking or dancing to the higher frequencies of human speech. People with high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the lower frequencies – in this case, the noise – as sounding louder than the higher frequencies, which they are now having more trouble hearing.

At least 18 percent of the population suffers from some form of high-frequency hearing loss. One of the possible causes for this condition is aging, but high-frequency hearing loss has in recent years been increasing in teenagers and younger adults as well, possibly as a result of being exposed to overly loud music, and suffering noise-induced hearing loss. Other factors that can cause hearing loss include genetics, exposure to toxic drugs (including some chemotherapy agents), diabetes, and other diseases.

If you have indeed suffered some high-frequency hearing loss, it can be treated. We can prescribe hearing aids that have been adjusted to reduce the volume of low-frequency sounds and boost the volume of the higher frequencies, so that you can hear better in crowds.

If you have trouble hearing in crowds, your first step should be to make an appointment with one of our specialists, so that we can determine whether you have suffered some form of hearing loss. Our audiologist can perform a variety of tests to identify the underlying cause of the problem and recommend the best treatment options for your specific situation.

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