It’s always a good thing when there are positive developments in the world of audiology. This month saw two reports that we want to share with you.
- Researchers say they are getting closer to developing cognitively-controlled hearing aids
- Scientists say that the rate of hearing impairment in teens may be decreasing
Cognitively-controlled Hearing Aids
Audiology Worldnews1 recently reported on research conducted at the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York that may finally address the inability to hear one conversation in a crowded room. Scientists have been using “deep neural network models” to study how the brain focuses on, and then decodes, a single conversation. Hearing aid technology today can’t help a person to single out just one conversation in a crowded restaurant or party. However, if scientists can decode how the brain pays attention to a conversation with just one person, it might be the first step in designing hearing aids that can do the same.
Another study2 of neural networks conducted in Australia showed that aging affects the brain’s ability to modulate how it listens to speech. The results provided scientists with more insight into why it is more difficult to pick out particular speech in a noisy environment as people age. The study recreated a cocktail party environment with one group of participants who were between 18 and 30 years of age and compared it to a second group of participants aged 60 to 79. The study found that younger brains can filter out background noise and target the speech it wants to hear while older brains tended to focus on the background noise.
The second piece of encouraging news3 this month is that the rate of damaged hearing in teens may be on the decline. Research4 conducted over the course of twenty years shows that teen hearing loss rates appeared to peak about ten years ago, but since then they have been on the decline. The study reported the following hearing loss rates from more than 7,000 participants:
- 1988 -1994: Moderate hearing loss rates in teens reported at 17 percent
- 2007-2008: The rate increased to 22.5 percent
- 2009-2010: Moderate hearing loss dropped to 15.2 percent
Scientists say that the lower rates are good news, but they hope it does not lead teens and their parents to believe that listening to loud music through ear phones is now ok.