Adjust residents' hearing aids before they listen to music, researcher advises

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Nursing home residents might get more enjoyment and therapeutic value out of music if they change hearing aid settings, recently published findings suggest.

Hearing aid technology has evolved to make it easier to follow everyday conversations but might distort music, according to investigators from the University of Colorado Boulder.

"Wide dynamic range compression” is the phrase that describes what many hearing aids now do — which is making softer sounds louder while providing less amplification to loud sounds. This makes it possible for a person to hear conversations in quickly varying environments, such as when moving from a room with a loud air conditioner or with other people talking into a quiet room, explained Naomi Croghan, Ph.D. She led the study as a doctoral student and now works at cochlear implant company Cochlear Americas.

Wide dynamic compression is not ideally suited for music, which relies on various volume levels for its effects. Hearing aids that simply boost volume across the board seem to be best for music, Croghan and her colleagues determined. They conducted a study of 18 hearing aid users, who listened to classical and rock music samples.

There's no need to hunt down a primitive hearing aid: Most commercially available hearing aids can do the kind of simpler processing that might enhance the music listening experience, Croghan told McKnight's. The key is for the clinician to be aware that a change in setting might be called for before turning on the music.

“I'd be looking for something where the audiologist or clinician has the ability to program different settings for a music situation,” she said. “Take home message is that for music specifically, a more basic setting would probably be preferred.”

Complete findings appear in Ear and Hearing.