We know that the ability to hear and the brain are interconnected, so it isn’t a revelation that hearing loss has been directly associated with dementia.
A yearly hearing test is recommended to keep track of your hearing health. Hearing loss occurs gradually over time, so it’s easily overlooked until it becomes significantly worse. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help slow down and preserve some of the loss.
We’re just starting to learn more about how the ears and brain are linked to each other. This new study, which was discovered by coincidence, is a connection that may enhance assistive listening devices that are utilized by anyone with movement disorders or limb loss.
BrainGate is a group of researchers that develop brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). These are essentially implants that utilize nerve signals in the brain to control assistive devices, like a prosthetic limb. The majority of BCI implants are placed in the area of the brain that oversees the plans to act known as the motor cortex. The research team wanted to know how applicable it was to gather nerve signals earlier than this.
They hypothesized whether nerve signals from one area in the brain that’s in charge of the urge to act could be used before the area of the brain that plans to act becomes involved. If it is possible, they may have the ability to speed up BCI response times.
An Unintentional Discovery with Surprising Results
There was one participant in the study who suffered from a spinal cord injury, and couldn’t use their arms and legs. While engaging in a basic movement exercise that used visual cues, their brain was observed through fMRI. It demonstrated activity in a specific area of this urge-to-act part of the brain.
The test was repeated using the BCI implant, rather than the fMRI. The implant did not show any activity in the same region. As researchers reviewed the data from a similar research session, they discovered something that surprised them. Throughout the movement exercise, when verbal cues were used, the implant harnessed strong signals from the same urge-to-act area.
A Study on One Participant
According to the BrainGate team, it appeared that the urge-to-act region did not care about the visual cues, and only focused on sound-based cues. A new study was created with the BCI implant to try out their prediction. There was a sample size of just one participant - the previously mentioned participant who suffered from a spinal cord injury - and the research switched between only visuals to only sound-based cues.
The urge-to-act area was responsive to sound-based cues, but not to visual cues. The planning-to-act area was responsive to both, and there were no preferences. Results were published in the Scientific Reports article entitled “Auditory cues reveal intended movement information in middle frontal gyrus neuronal ensemble activity of a person with tetraplegia.”
The Significance of the Study
Individuals with ALS, brainstem stroke, and spinal cord injuries have been able to control a computer cursor by thinking about the parallel limb movement. Their research demonstrated that they were able to have intuitive control over advanced prosthetic limbs. Also, those with paralysis were able to easily control powerful external devices.
The discovery of this urge-to-act area that is responsive to sound cues, allows people to use it with the planning-to-act area, and BCI implants can gather movement data from separate areas of the brain. The researchers may be able to use BCIs to create trustworthy, instinctive, and naturally managed movement of paralyzed limbs.
Improved hearing could be a part of all this.
Whether you are beginning to notice hearing loss, or have been experiencing hearing loss for a long time, contact us at Pure Sound Hearing for a complimentary hearing test and consultation.