Blame the Brain for the Hearing Loss That Comes With Aging

iStock
iStock

The reason why older people typically can’t hear very well has very little to do with the functional capabilities of their ears, Co.Exist reports. Instead, as a recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology (freely available here) investigates, it has more to do with how the brain processes sound, and how that ability deteriorates as we age.

Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park report that the deterioration is due to aging’s effect on the brain’s midbrain (associated with hearing as well as vision and motor control) and cortex (associated with thought and language). The study examined 17 younger adults and 15 older people with no signs of dementia. They were asked to listen to an audiobook while another narrated audiobook played in the background.

When trying to distinguish between the voices of two different speakers, the midbrains of older adults don't respond as strongly as those of younger people. The older adults' brains couldn’t encode the auditory signals as well, and they took longer to process speech, especially when there were two competing voices. The older brain appears to be less capable of picking out one sound out of many.

However, their cortex actually reconstructed the amplitude of the speech they heard in the brain with greater accuracy—an exaggerated response, which may reveal why older people need to pay more attention to process the noise of people talking. As the study's abstract notes, this response suggests "an age-related over (or inefficient) use of cognitive resources that may explain their difficulty in processing speech targets while trying to ignore interfering noise."

So the next time you encounter an older individual who is hard of hearing, don’t bother trying to speak louder. It won’t help them hear you any better. Instead, move your conversation to a place with less background noise.

[h/t Co.Exist]
 
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High Levels of Arsenic Found in Bottled Water From Whole Foods and Dr Pepper

iStock/mediaphotos
iStock/mediaphotos

If you're concerned about drinking unfiltered water from your tap at home, bottled water isn't automatically the safer option. As USA Today reports, tests conducted by the California nonprofit Center for Environmental Health (CEH) found that the arsenic levels in two popular bottled water brands exceed those found in the state's tap water.

The affected brands are the Keurig Dr Pepper-owned Peñafiel and Whole Foods-owned Starkey. The arsenic content in each product hasn't prompted a federal recall, but CEH discovered that it does violate state guidelines. CEH sent notices to both companies informing them that their products must be printed with health warnings disclosing the presence of arsenic under California’s consumer protection law Proposition 65.

Arsenic is safe, and often unavoidable, in very small amounts, but in high concentrations it can be harmful. Drinking water with unsafe levels of arsenic can lead to cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental issues in children.

An earlier report released by Consumer Reports in April found that the same brands analyzed by CEH had twice the federal limit of arsenic in their bottled water. Keurig Dr Pepper stopped production of its Peñafiel water, which is sold at Target, Walmart, and elsewhere, for two weeks following Consumer Reports's tests. Starkey water bottles are sold at Whole Foods.

Even if they meet safety standards, many popular water brands contain trace amounts of arsenic. Consumer Reports has found acceptably low arsenic levels in Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Deer Park, Fiji, and Poland Spring products.

[h/t USA Today]

These ASMR-Ready Headphones Promise to Lull You to Sleep

AcousticSheep
AcousticSheep

What do hushed whispers, gently tapping fingernails, and Bob Ross’s voice have in common? They’re all examples of triggers that may cause what’s known as an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), or, as Dictionary.com succinctly explains it, a “calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation” that can be triggered by soothing stimuli. ASMR has recently been recognized as an effective relaxation technique for those looking to calm their nerves; now, ASMR enthusiasts and novices alike can experience it in the form of a sleep-ready headband.

Upon first glance, SleepPhones: ASMR Edition may look like just a fabric headband, but the device actually features flat speakers tucked into soft, stretchy, eco-friendly material. Unlike regular headphones, SleepPhones can be worn comfortably to bed, even if you sleep on your side, and they come preloaded with content designed to help you relax. They feature eight hours of built-in ASMR content by 16 different ASMR artists (or ASMRtists), including but not limited to tracks with rhythmic tapping and "peaceful Italian whisperings."

A close-up of the SleepPhones speaker technology
AcousticSheep

The speaker components of SleepPhones
AcousticSheep

Using SleepPhones is designed to be a stress-free experience. The speakers have the ability to play for 20 ad-free hours with a mere three-hour charging time in between. There are also zero cords involved, meaning you won’t get all tangled up as you lie down or if you have a tendency to toss and turn at night. The small button located in the back of the headband allows you to start, pause, or skip tracks and control the volume.

For people looking for ways to relax beyond yoga and meditation, ASMR may be the way to go. One study observed that subjects watching ASMR videos not only reported feeling that aforementioned pleasant tingling, but were also found to have reduced heart rates.

You can get a pair of your own SleepPhones on Kickstarter with a pledge of $75 or more. They come in three different sizes with seven colors from which to choose.

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