New technology improves hearing aid sensitivity

July 11th, 2008 - 4:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 11 (IANS) The latest hearing aid technology sailed through its most challenging test by working perfectly in one of the noisiest environments — a Chicago restaurant with the clang of plates and silverware during breakfast rush. Washington University School of Medicine researchers actually transplanted the exact complement of sounds to the clinic of Michael Valente, who heads the School’s audiology division.

“We have a sound-room set up to be an exact duplication of being in a loud restaurant. It’s real restaurant noise, and it allows us to realistically test hearing aids,” informed Valente.

“One of the most common complaints I hear from people who wear hearing aids is that they have stopped going to restaurants because they can’t communicate. So we are testing hearing aid technology that might better help people hear in noisy places.”

“People often tell me that when they are in a noisy situation, they take out their hearing aids because they don’t help and sometimes even make it harder to hear.”

This is a very common type of hearing loss that often comes with ageing or prolonged noise exposure. Valente says the open-fit hearing aids are what most new patients are asking for because they are very light and almost invisible, but they are not the best choice for all hearing problems.

Open-fit hearing aids have been available for about three years. Designed for people with normal hearing in low frequency range, but (who) have lost hearing in the upper range, where most conversational sounds are.

Open-fit means the devices let ambient sounds into the ear canal, unlike more conventional hearing aids, which completely block off the canal.

Canal blockage creates an effect that makes wearers’ own voices sound a little like they are talking from the bottom of a barrel so open-fit is an attractive new option.

“We found that the open-fit hearing aids with directional microphones on average gave wearers a 20 percent improvement in speech intelligibility in the restaurant setting compared to not having a hearing aid or wearing an open-fit aid without a directional microphone,” Valente said.

In fact, the aids without directional microphones performed worse in the noisy situation than no aid at all. “That’s not unusual,” Valente said.

The study has been published in the June issue of the International Journal of Audiology.

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