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Friday
Oct202017

Brain training can improve our understanding of speech in noisy places

A double-blind placebo-controlled study found that elderly people with hearing loss can triple their understanding of words in noisy situations by training on a custom audiomotor game

For many people with hearing challenges, trying to follow a conversation in a crowded restaurant or other noisy venue is a major struggle, even with hearing aids. Now researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 19th have some good news: time spent playing a specially designed, brain-training audiogame could help.

In fact, after playing the game, hearing impaired elderly people correctly made out 25 percent more words in the presence of high levels of background noise. The training provided about three times more benefit than hearing aids alone.

"These findings underscore that understanding speech in noisy listening conditions is a whole brain activity, and is not strictly governed by the ear," said Daniel Polley of Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School. "The improvements in speech intelligibility following closed loop audiomotor perceptual training did not arise from an improved signal being transferred from the ear to the brain. Our subjects' hearing, strictly speaking, did not get better." And, yet, their ability to make sense of what they'd heard did. Continue reading

Source: EurekAlert, October 19, 2017

Thursday
Oct192017

Turning brain cells into skin cells

A new study published in Nature Communications reveals that it is possible to repurpose the function of different mature cells across the body -- and harvest new tissue and organs from these cells.

The research tracks the transformation of genetically manipulated cells into melanocytes, which are responsible for the production of skin pigment and essential to the body's auditory system.

Reversing the irreversible

"When cells develop, they differentiate into different organs with varying functions: bone, intestine, brain, and so on," Prof. Levy says. "Our study proves, for the first time, that this process is not irreversible. We can turn back the clock and transform a mature cell that already plays a definite role in the body into a cell of a completely different kind.

"The applications of this are endless -- from transplants, which would eliminate long waiting lists and eliminate the common problem of immune system rejection of 'foreign' organs; to maybe one day curing deafness: taking any cell in the body and transforming it into melanocytes to aid in the restoration of hearing. The possibilities are really beyond the scope of the imagination," Prof. Levy continues. Continue reading

ScienceDaily, October 18, 2017

Wednesday
Oct182017

An epidemic of dream deprivation: UA review finds unrecognized health hazard of sleep loss

UA Center for Integrative Medicine sleep and dream specialist Dr. Rubin Naiman's comprehensive review of data about the causes, extent and consequences of dream loss includes recommendations for restoring healthy dreaming

TUCSON, Ariz. - A silent epidemic of dream loss is at the root of many of the health concerns attributed to sleep loss, according to Rubin Naiman, PhD, a sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, who recently published a comprehensive review of data.

His review, "Dreamless: the silent epidemic of REM sleep loss" in the "Unlocking the Unconscious: Exploring the Undiscovered Self" issue of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, details the various factors that cause rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dream loss. Typical sleep follows a pattern in which deeper, non-REM sleep is prioritized by the body. Only later in the night and into the early morning do people experience dreaming, during REM sleep.

"We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived," noted Dr. Naiman, UA clinical assistant professor of medicine. He sees REM/dream loss as an unrecognized public health hazard that silently wreaks havoc by contributing to illness, depression and an erosion of consciousness. "Many of our health concerns attributed to sleep loss actually result from REM sleep deprivation." Continue reading

Source: EurekAlert, October 17, 2017

Tuesday
Oct172017

Baby talk in any language: Shifting the timbre of our voices

When talking with their young infants, parents instinctively use "baby talk," a unique form of speech including exaggerated pitch contours and short, repetitive phrases. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 12 have found another unique feature of the way mothers talk to their babies: they shift the timbre of their voice in a rather specific way. The findings hold true regardless of a mother's native language.

 

"We use timbre, the tone color or unique quality of a sound, all the time to distinguish people, animals, and instruments," says Elise Piazza from Princeton University. "We found that mothers alter this basic quality of their voices when speaking to infants, and they do so in a highly consistent way across many diverse languages."

 

Timbre is the reason it's so easy to discern idiosyncratic voices -- the famously velvety sound of Barry White, the nasal tone of Gilbert Gottfried, and the gravelly sound of Tom Waits -- even if they're all singing the same note, Piazza explains.

 

Piazza and her colleagues at the Princeton Baby Lab, including Marius Catalin Iordan and Casey Lew-Williams, are generally interested in the way children learn to detect structure in the voices around them during early language acquisition. In the new study, they decided to focus on the vocal cues that parents adjust during baby talk without even realizing they're doing it. Continue reading

 

Source: ScienceDaily, October 12, 2017 (retrieved October 17, 2017)
Monday
Oct162017

Augmented tongue ultrasound for speech therapy

A team of researchers in the GIPSA-Lab (CNRS/Université Grenoble Alpes/Grenoble INP) and at INRIA Grenoble Rhône-Alpes has developed a system that can display the movements of our own tongues in real time. Captured using an ultrasound probe placed under the jaw, these movements are processed by a machine learning algorithm that controls an "articulatory talking head." As well as the face and lips, this avatar shows the tongue, palate and teeth, which are usually hidden inside the vocal tract. This "visual biofeedback" system, which ought to be easier to understand and therefore should produce better correction of pronunciation, could be used for speech therapy and for learning foreign languages. This work is published in the October 2017 issue of Speech Communication.

For a person with an articulation disorder, speech therapy partly uses repetition exercises: the practitioner qualitatively analyzes the patient's pronunciations and orally explains, using drawings, how to place articulators, particularly the tongue: something patients are generally unaware of. How effective therapy is depends on how well the patient can integrate what they are told. It is at this stage that "visual biofeedback" systems can help. They let patients see their articulatory movements in real time, and in particular how their tongues move, so that they are aware of these movements and can correct pronunciation problems faster. Continue reading

Source: EurekAlert, October 13, 2017