Our Research Lab
Auditory Plasticity & Aging
A long-term goal of our research group and partnering laboratories is to develop and/or implement therapeutic interventions for sensorineural hearing loss associate with aging (presbycusis) and other causes. To date, no therapies are available for this most common form of hearing loss. Indeed, in this context we consider hearing aids to be prosthetic devices rather than therapeutic devices in so much as there is little to no evidence that they can be used to treat the disorder. Rather, hearing aids augment hearing while they are being worn. Take them off, and hearing ability returns to baseline.
Instead, wouldn't it be great if we did have therapeutic interventions for sensorineural hearing loss! Those might consist of pharmacological treatments, gene therapy, stem-cell therapy, or plasticity-inducing sound-therapy. In our lab, we are focused on the latter - sound therapy to induce plasticity in the central auditory system that might overcome specific auditory perceptual deficits.
Our first approach is an attempt to determine how plastic the auditory system is in older persons relative to younger persons. This is essential knowledge if one wishes to leverage the (putative) plasticity of the central auditory system, via sound therapy for example, to ameliorate presbycusis.
Our projects to date have involved acute sound therapy, as brief as five minutes, to gauge behavioral and neural changes in patients with mild chronic tinnitus resulting from an augmented acoustic environment. They also have involved longer-term sound therapy that lasts ~12 - 16 hours per day over periods of several weeks. These have demonstrated auditory plasticity that reflects theoretically sound predictions. While preliminary, these results also indicate robust plasticity even in senior adults.