Electrodes stimulate the hearing brain to improve hearing speech in noise

Sometimes the biggest scientific breakthroughs happen by accident.

Recently surgeons found that stimulating a specific part of the brain’s auditory cortex near the planum temporale  immediately improved speech perception over background noise. They happened to be implanting electrodes into a patient’s brain to pinpoint the area that triggered the person’s epilepsy seizures – a tactic used in severe cases of the condition.

Surgeons stimulated the patient’s planum temporale while playing sound clips of someone talking in extensive background noise. The patient deciphered the spoken sentence and rated the clarity as a 4 or 5 out of 5. Without stimulation, the patient could hear only a few of the words and rated the sound clips as low as 2.

The patient said, “[With the stimulus] the voices get a lot clearer. I still hear the noise, but it’s as if someone is saying it in my ear.”

Many people with hearing loss struggle to hear speech in noisy situations, so these are exciting results which could help researchers to develop an important treatment or technological solution to resolve the challenge of hearing speech in noise. It sounds like the answer lies in the planum temporale.

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