For approximately 30 million people in the United States, tinnitus is a distracting condition that negatively affects their ability to have a normal life. For about 4 million of them the condition is so severe that it makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, and has a big effect on their ability to learn and remember — and it feel’s like they are going crazy!
Tinnitus is where you hear sounds within your head, even though there are no external sounds to correspond. It can be in both ears, or just one, or simply within the head itself, and is usually described as a ringing, buzzing or high-pitched whining. It can be intermittent, or continuous, and in some people the intensity of the noise can be changed by shoulder, head, jaw, tongue or eye movement.
Researchers at Washington University Medical School in St. Louise are working on finding a way to retrain the brain in order to stop the sounds. They call their program the “Brain Fitness Program” and after documenting degree of tinnitus and neurological differences between normal individuals and patients with mild to severe tinnitus, 20 patients were sent to the “brain gym”. Out of these subjects, 16 stayed with the program long enough to complete it, and 13 of these found “substantial” relief for their tinnitus.
According to four of these finalists, before they underwent the WU program they were being constantly annoyed from the disease, and most had reached a state of exhaustion and near-collapse due to lack of adequate sleep. Sufferers who had both severe and mild bouts of the disease told of substantially less frequent bouts after undergoing the training. All of the final subjects said they were better able to control their tinnitus by being able to put it out of their minds at will and able to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in ages.
Dr. Jay Piccirillo and Dr. Harold Burton at WU measured the volume of the ringing or noises that the patients heard. Dr. Piccirillo says he did not believe that the tinnitus level had been consistently altered by the Brain Fitness Program training, but what changed was the frequency in which it became conscious enough to disturb the individuals. He said that, after training is was easier for the patients to ignore their tinnitus, putting it into the category of “meaningless noise” and simply a distraction.
Three of the four patients interviewed also described an improvement in listening and language stills, in their attention, and in memory and cognitive abilities after the training. Those changes are important for the researchers to note because their studies of the brain of these patients showed clear and documented evident of tinnitus-induced brain changes that were translated into accelerated cognitive loss.
If the results from this study could help those suffering with tinnitus, most common among the aging, through retraining the brain in order ignore the noise, even if there is no way as of yet to eliminate it. The long-term effects of the Brain Fitness Program still have to be determined. It may be necessary to go to retraining periodically, but that’s a small price to pay to make such major changes in the quality of their life.
The Brain Connection: Promising results in controlling tinnitus with brain training: http://brainconnection.positscience.com/offsite/?offsite_url=http://merzenich.positscience.com/
Wikipedia — Tinnitus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinnitus