Thursday, September 21, 2017

Nina Kraus: Musical Experience Related to Auditory Processing

From time to time, I'd like to share the amazing work being done in the field of hearing.

Nina Kraus, Ph.D., is a scientist, inventor, musician, and professor at Northwestern University who studies the biology of auditory learning.   Her work is fascinating. 

She studies how our brains make sense of sound, and the influences in our lives that may enhance the exquisite processing capacity of our auditory brains.

Sounds are fleeting and constantly changing.  No other sensory system (including vision) can process stimuli as quickly.  Take speech: a single syllable word such as "drink" can have 5 phonemes within it, and if any one of them changes, so does the meaning of the word.  All along the auditory pathway from the ear through the brainstem and up into the higher cortical areas, there are steps of processing involving tuning in, filtering out, and attention.

Dr. Kraus has done studies both in the laboratory and in the community that explore some  powerful influences on auditory processing.  A major area of research looked at how musical experience "primes" the brain for more accurate processing.

One study, called the Harmony Project, looked at what happens when underserved children in Los Angeles, ages 6-9, were provided with musical training.  In summary, the results found that:
  • Community music programs may spark neuroplasticity (brain changes) in children.
  • It takes time to change the brain.  One year of training did not result in demonstrable brain change, but after two years biological sound processing and everyday listening skills were strengthened.
  • Making music matters. Neuroplasicity was demonstrated only in children who actively played music; listening was not enough.
Another study involved high school students.  Results found that:
  • Musical training as late as high school still had the potential to improve sound processing in the brain.
  • Auditory enrichment such as music could be useful for children with developmental delays.
  • The research suggests that musical training may counter some developmental problems.  It supports music as a community-based intervention to enrich sound processing and everyday communication.
Dr. Kraus's work studies neuro-biologic functions with great precision. Her work goes from the lab out into the world.  Using the principles of neuroscience to improve human communication, she advocates for best practices in education, health, and social policy.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dementia: Can You Decrease the Risk?

A new study suggests that a number of factors,
including mid-life hearing loss, could contribute
to some types of dementia.
There are no guarantees against dementia, but a major international study just published in the esteemed journal Lancet, reports it is possible that one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked at their brain health throughout life.

According to the researchers, there are life style factors that may make the brain more vulnerable to problems with memory and thinking as we age. Dementia is diagnosed later in life, but changes in the brain begin to develop many years earlier.

Here are 9 factors that contribute to the risk of some types of dementia:

  • mid-life hearing loss (9%)
  • failing to complete secondary education (8%)
  • smoking (5%)
  • failing to seek treatment for depression (4%)
  • physical inactivity (3%)
  • social isolation (2%)
  • high blood pressure (2%)
  • obesity (1%)
  • Type 2 diabetes (1%)

While I have been aware of each of these, I was surprised by the degree (9%!) to which hearing loss factored in. There is much that is still unknown about just how hearing loss is connected to cognitive decline. Maybe hearing loss adds to the cognitive burden of a vulnerable brain, or leads to social disengagement or depression, or is related to systemic age-related microvascular changes.

It's also not proven for sure if use of hearing aids eliminates hearing loss as a risk factor. However, it is likely that if amplification fosters social connection and reduces the effort needed to listen, that addressing hearing loss proactively is a big plus. (And, it makes life better, for sure!)

The take home message is the number of people with dementia is increasing globally, although it is decreasing in some countries. Quoting the Lancet: "Be ambitious about prevention. We recommend active treatment of hypertension in middle age and older people without dementia to reduce dementia incidence. Interventions for other risk factors including more childhood education, exercise, maintaining social engagement, reducing smoking, and management of hearing loss, depression, diabetes and obesity might have the potential to delay or prevent a third of dementia cases."

It is a hopeful message: although we cannot totally control our future, there are modifiable risk factors that make an enormous difference, and these addressing them proactively are good for overall health, making good choices a win-win situation.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

McGuire’s Volunteers Bring Gift of Hearing & Unexpected Family Reunion to Peruvian Family

1,700 People Fit with Hearing Aids During Starkey Hearing Foundation Mission

David Carr with Juan, Miguel and Danielle Gilewski
Arequipa, PERU – To give the gift of hearing to those who would never have the means or access to hearing aids, David Carr and Danielle Gilewski of McGuire’s Hearing Aids and Audiology Services, recently volunteered to join a mission sponsored by the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

Carr, the owner and operator of McGuire’s and The Hearing Centers, and Gilewski, the general manager of the nine locations on Long Island, Westchester, and the Bronx, not only provided the gift of hearing to a man named Juan, but they facilitated an unexpected family reunion.

The surprise came when Miguel, a volunteer from Peru was serving as a translator for the Starkey Mission as they fit 1,700 patients a day for hearing aids in Arequipa. Little did Miguel know he would be helping translate for his deceased father’s cousin. When Juan sat in his chair to be fitted, he noticed he and Miguel shared the same last name. The two soon made the connection and learned that Juan is the cousin of Miguel's father.

Juan and Miguel had never met, so they were excited to make the family connection. They exchanged contact information so they could stay in touch despite living four hours apart. Through the gift of hearing, they will be able to stay connected.

“Someday a person we have helped might make a decision of kindness or trust because they were helped by an American,” said Carr. “And this time, it came with an added bonus of connecting family.”

The Starkey Hearing Foundation’s mission is to give the gift of hearing to those in need, empowering them to achieve their potential. The Foundation made a commitment in 2010 to the Clinton Global Initiative to provide 1 million hearing aids this decade. Aided by volunteers, such as Carr and Gilewski, they continue to travel the globe helping people in need. To date, they have given the gift of hearing in more than 100 countries.

About McGuire's Hearing and Audiological Services

McGuire's Hearing Aids and Audiology Services was established in 1970 and is owned and operated by third generation McGuire's family member, David Carr. Like his parents before him, Dave's business philosophy of "patients come first" is most evident when he cares for patients as a New York State licensed hearing specialist. In fact, all McGuire employees recognize that patient commitment is the company's primary responsibility. Guided by this philosophy, staff members devote themselves to optimal patient care and exceed state and federal requirements for continuing education. Find McGuire’s on the web at

About The Hearing Center

The Hearing Center at Pelham, Montefiore, MedAlliance, and Yorktown are part of the family of hearing practices of McGuire’s Hearing Services of New York. McGuire’s Hearing Services is a family owned and operated practice located on Long Island, with over 45 years’ experience serving the hearing community.

The Hearing Centers have provided the highest level of audiological evaluations and hearing aid services. They offer the latest hearing aid technology. They strive to build long-term relationships with patients and families based on trust, comfort and respect.

Our newest Bronx location is the Hearing Center at Medalliance, located near the N.Y. Botanical Gardens and Fordham University.   Medalliance is a multi-service, multi-specialty medical practice that has provided services to the Bronx community for over 23 years.  The HC at Medalliance is an independent free-standing audiology and hearing aid practice with our own entrance on East Fordham Road.  We are able to provide all hearing services with appointments available quickly.

The Hearing Center at Yorktown Heights is our northernmost office, serving people in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties. This office was an established practice that joined our group in 2015, and now shares in the resources offered by a large multi-office practice.

The Hearing Centers serve patients of all ages, from newborn babies through centenarians, with the goal to empower patients to lead happier, more engaged, and more comfortable lives. They treat their patients as they would hope to be, and would want their own family members to be treated. Find the Hearing Center on the web at

About the Starkey Hearing Foundation

As a young man, William F. Austin, the founder of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, realized his true calling in life was helping people hear, and that by doing so, he could have a lasting impact on the world. For more than 50 years, Austin has been providing the gift of hearing to people in need, and to formalize the philanthropic efforts of Starkey Hearing Technologies, he officially founded the Starkey Hearing Foundation in 1984.  Austin built the organization on his vision — “So the World May Hear.” Over the last three decades, he has expanded the Foundation’s reach from Minnesota, to across the United States and around the world, with the help of thousands of volunteers and supporters.  Find the Starkey Hearing Foundation website.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Summer is prime time for music festivals and concerts.  Sharing music outdoors with friends is a blast (oops).  But, when you pack that picnic dinner remember to take along some hearing protection!  Ear plugs work.

Researchers published a study that was done in the Netherlands (JAMA, Otolaryngology  Head -Neck Surgery online).  A group of people who attended outdoor music concerts were recruited for an experiment through social media. Half were randomly assigned to use ear protectors, and the other half did not use any.  Hearing was checked for "temporary threshold shifts" following exposure.  Bottom line: there was a big difference between the two groups. Temporary hearing loss occured in 8% or the protected group, but 42% in the "naked-ear" group.  The researchers concluded:  "Therefore, the use of earplugs should be actively promoted and encouraged to avoid noise-induced hearing loss."

Here are some suggestions to make concert enjoyment safe for your ears.

Pick you seats carefully. Try to avoid being too close to the stage and the array of loudspeakers.

Keep the children home.  Children's ears are especially vulnerable to loud sound levels, and a really loud concert can cause damage.

Use hearing protection.  There are many options: we sell good quality soft foam ear plugs in all of our offices.  We also make custom ear protectors in a variety of materials and colors for personalized comfort and appearance.  Some are specifically geared for musicians. Also consider noise-cancelling headphones. Generally the volume levels are so high that you will enjoy the music even with hearing protection.

Check the levels.  There are phone Apps that allow you to check volume levels at concerts. If the level is over 90dB, consider moving to a quieter area.

Take a break.  If the music is loud and you don't have hearing protection, then try to limit your exposure, and take one minute breaks for the action from time to time.  Some "time-outs" give your ears a rest and may help keep your ears healthy.

Keep those ears hearing fully...after all, if you love music, you will want to enjoy outdoor concerts for many summers to come.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

You May Have Hearing Loss and Not Even Know it

You may think your hearing is just fine...and it may be. But, a study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC) recently found that about a quarter of people between the ages of 20 and 69 who think their hearing is good or excellent are in actuality showing signs of hearing loss.

Hearing loss is often attributed to noisy work environments or to aging.  It is true - these are prime reasons that people's hearing becomes less acute.  In fact, the CDC attributes about 24% of hearing loss to loud workplaces.  However acting director Dr. Ann Schuchat was surpised to learn that many people with evidence of noise-induced hearing loss don't have noisy jobs, and may have damaged their ears from their home or community environments.  “Older people are more likely to have hearing loss, but this study finds some young adults are already losing some hearing, so this is a concern for all age groups,” Dr. Schuchat said. “Asking patients about their hearing, and providing tips for reducing exposure to loud noises, can help our patients  preserve their hearing longer."

Loud noises, such as from sirens to lawnmowers and rock concerts to sporting events can damage hearing. Noise induced hearing loss accumulates over time, and once the damage is done it does not come back.

Hearing loss may start early in life. The survey found that 20% of Americans in their 20's have some loss of hearing for the softest sounds, and especially so for men. The point of this report that struck me it that a quarter of the folks in this survey did not know they were losing their hearing.  The CDC recommends that it is a good investment to avoid cacophony when you can, and use ear protection (earplugs, ear muffs, noise-cancelling headphones) when you can't. Remember to lower the volume on your TV or music.

I would also recommend a "baseline" evaluation so you know your current hearing status.  We can guide you about the state of your ears so they serve you well for years and years!

Friday, May 12, 2017

The World's First "Hearable"

The Bragi Dash Pro tailored by Starkey
is a computer if your ear.
I am really excited about this!

You may have heard of "wearables" - wireless techonologies that you wear such as a smart watch or exercise monitor. A "hearable" is the same idea, but offers both an enhanced listening experience (it is worn in your ear) and biometric data to track your exercise performance.  Let me explain:

Starkey has partnered with a company called Bragi to launch the Dash Pro tailored by Starkey Hearing Technologies.  It is a wireless earphone fit and tailored for the consumer.  It features  a custom shell and enhanced sound so that it fits each specific user.

These are earphones you can walk, run, swim, and bike with.  The custom made shells assure that they fit in you ears comfortably and securely.  You can listen to music through your smartphone with no wires at all.  You can also stream your phone calls. And, you can track your workouts and collect fitness data such as heartbeat, steps and duration while running, cadence while cycling, and breaths while swimming.  Data is picked up by sensors in your ear - how  cool is that!  Since they are waterproof, you can use them for all sports indoors and out.

Here is what you do: make an appointment with us - only your Starkey/Audibel provider can order your custom Dash Pro. We will make custom impressions of your ears, and they will be scanned electronically at Starkey to create 3-D printed shells with the Bragi earphones imbedded. We will fit them to you in our office, and you can be on your way.

Audio quality features full bass and clarity in the treble. The Dash is actually a computer in your ear.  Tailored to you - you can listen to music, track your fitness data, and communicate by smartphone.  I don't have mine yet...they will be released in a few weeks, but I can't wait to try these out.

Friday, April 21, 2017


Listen!  Here's one more reason to get moving.  We all know the benefits of exercise: working out helps us manage our weight, boost our energy, stay heart-healthy, and enhance our mood.  And now, research at the University of Florida is suggesting that exercise may help prevent age-related hearing loss, so far, at least in mice.

The researchers divided mice into two groups: the mice in one group each had an exercise wheel, but the other mice did not.  They found that the sedentary mice lost important structures in the auditory system at a much higher rate than their exercising counterparts. According to their results published in the Journal of Neuroscience this resulted in a 20% hearing loss in the sedentary mice but only a 5% hearing loss in the active mice - that's huge!

Age-related hearing loss affects about 70% of adults age 70 and over, and is associated with loss of hair cells, capillaries and spiral ganglion in the cochlear (inner ear) system. These are the structures that sense sound, feed the hearing system with oxygen, and send the sound from the ear up to the brain.

The inner ear is a highly metabolic organ - it is always "on" and processing sound. It needs a lot of energy molecules.  To generate energy molecules the system must be well-fed with oxygen.  Researchers compared the running mice with the non-running mice to test how exercise affects the inner ear structures.  While it's fun to visualize tiny Fit-Bits, they researchers  monitored the exercise wheels to see how far the mice ran.

It's thought that age-related inflammation damages the capillaries and sensory hair cells, and that exercise protects against inflammation.  They found that the runner mice had about half the markers of inflammation than the couch potato mice.  We already know that there is a link between exercise and hearing loss, but this is the first study to show that regular exercise can actually prevent age-related hearing loss in mice.

This is likely to translate to people.  New studies are beginning to look for molecules that are released by exercise that protect biologic function in humans.  According to Dr. Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, a co-author of the UF study exercise likely releases some growth factors yet  to be discovered that maintain capillary. Exercise may also attenuate negative factors such as inflammation.

So, tie up your sneakers, put on some music, and move it!