Newswise — Improving cardiovascular health appears to be the best way to help process what we hear, according to Ray Hull, an audiologist at Wichita State University. “There are a number of ways to improve hearing, through hearing aids and surgery, for example,” said Hull. “But for central nervous system processing of what we hear, we need a central nervous system that’s working well, and improved cardiovascular health appears to be one way that can happen.”

Hull, a professor in communication sciences and disorders at Wichita State, recently had an article reach No. 1 in’s “Top Ten Articles” of its topic area. His co-authored article, “The Influences of Cardiovascular Health on Peripheral and Central Auditory Function in Adults: A Research Review,” was published in the June 2010 edition of the American Journal of Audiology.

In spite of considerable research on the effect of cardiovascular health on hearing, this paper was different because, according to Hull, apparently no one had looked at research that has accumulated for about 60 years and compiled it into a readable format. Adult children often wonder, “Why can’t Dad seem to understand what we’re saying to him or make decisions about what we tell him anymore?” Hull said the answer to that question may not be that Dad is hard of hearing, although a hearing loss may be contributing. It may be the result of his inability to comprehend or process what he hears. “Hearing loss can occur for many reasons and at any age, but processing what we hear doesn’t have to get old,” said Hull. “One of the reasons the processing of what people hear tends to decline with advancing age is that they become less and less active as they get older.” Hearing aids can help our ability to hear better, but they don’t help us process what we hear, according to Hull. Hull describes auditory processing as the ability to make decisions about what we hear and the ability to comprehend what is said to us. Improving cardiovascular health appears to turn back our biological clock. And the good news, Hull said, is that it doesn’t seem to matter at what age we begin — just that we start having a more active lifestyle sooner rather than later. “One of the most important things that we can do to prevent an aging central nervous system and our ability to understand and process what we hear is to maintain an active lifestyle — aerobics, swimming, lifting weights and walking,” said Hull. Hull also said even moderate cardiovascular exercise when you’re in your late 80s or early 90s can improve the ability to process what you hear and help the speed of the decision-making process. In the past two years, Hull has had two books published, “Introduction to Hearing Rehabilitation” and “Hearing in Aging.”

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American Journal of Audiology (June 2010)