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When the brain, not the ears, goes hard of hearing

Problems with the brain not just the ears cause a great deal of the age-related hearing loss in older people. Researchers are finding more and more subtle problems in the way our brain processes information as we age, so much so that an older person whose ears are in fine shape may have trouble hearing because of an aging brain.

In addition to earlier findings of a specific type of "timing" problem that limits our hearing as we age, the group is now finding increasing evidence of a "feedback" problem in the brain that diminishes our ability to hear. This week at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology in New Orleans, researchers are discussing the results so far of the hunt for genes that play a role in the aging brain's plummeting ability to organize the information our ears record.

"Traditionally, scientists studying hearing problems started looking at the ear," says Robert D. Frisina, Ph.D., professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and an adjunct professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. "But we are finding patients with normal ears who still have trouble understanding a conversation. There are many people who have good inner ears who just don't hear well. That's because their brains are aging."

The findings come from researchers at the International Center for Hearing and Speech Research (ICHSR), an NIH-funded group of scientists in Rochester, N.Y., that is recognized as a leader in research in age-related hearing loss. The center includes scientists from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology and neuroscientists from the University of Rochester.

Sophisticated tests that measure how well the brain processes information that the ear detects are helping scientists sort out the findings. Normally the brain does a masterful job of filtering, sorting, and making sense of the information that flows through our senses ev
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
22-Feb-2005


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