Hearing loss and brain plasticity: the hyperactivity phenomenon
Brain Structure and Function
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Many aging adults experience some form of hearing problems that may arise from auditory peripheral damage. However, it has been increasingly acknowledged that hearing loss is not only a dysfunction of the auditory periphery but also results from changes within the entire auditory system, from periphery to cortex. Damage to the auditory periphery is associated with an increase in neural activity at various stages throughout the auditory pathway. Here, we review neurophysiological evidence of hyperactivity, auditory perceptual difficulties that may result from hyperactivity, and outline open conceptual and methodological questions related to the study of hyperactivity. We suggest that hyperactivity alters all aspects of hearing—including spectral, temporal, spatial hearing—and, in turn, impairs speech comprehension when background sound is present. By focusing on the perceptual consequences of hyperactivity and the potential challenges of investigating hyperactivity in humans, we hope to bring animal and human electrophysiologists closer together to better understand hearing problems in older adulthood.