I vividly remember the day I first heard the band REM’s album, Automatic for the People. It was a sunny afternoon in 1992. We had just finished high school and some friends and I were contemplating the study ahead before our exams. The musicianship on this album truly impressed me (and still does) as my hearing automatically navigated the different soundscapes across songs. Who knew that in years to come I would have the privilege of being involved in validating the most sophisticated automatic hearing aid algorithm; an algorithm that constantly monitors the acoustic environment and seamlessly adapts (in real-time) to the wearers changing soundscape.
Modern life is busy. And modern life can be noisy, which is especially challenging for communication for people with hearing loss. Thankfully there are different digital signal processing technologies available to help them hear better in different listening situation, for example beamformers in crowds/background noise.1 And more good news – the vast majority of hearing aid users benefit from some change in signal processing with a change in listening environment.2
So when should we change the signal processing? And how? Could the wearer do this manually?
Research shows it is difficult for hearing aid wearers to accurately select the best hearing program.3 This is perhaps unsurprising given we encounter many different soundscapes during our busy lives that are made up of many different sounds … that are changing over time! Could this be done automatically? Hearing aid manufacturers have developed different algorithms that attempt to analyse and classify the wearers sound environment, then automatically adjusting the settings to optimise hearing.
Sounds great in theory; who wouldn’t want something easy to use? But do they work?
We designed a study to put AutoSense OS, Phonak’s automatic algorithm, through its paces. Twenty-five participants with mild to moderate-severe hearing loss had Virto V90 custom hearing aids made specifically for their ears. These were set and verified according to prescription targets and fine-tuned during trial for preference, as is standard clinical practice.
They also had different settings/programs to optimise hearing in four sound scenarios we presented them with, firstly at the initial fitting then after 4 weeks experience (The sound scenarios were: Speech in quiet, noise, loud noise and in the car. We asked participants to manually select their preferred program then tested how well they heard in each scenario (using the hearing in noise test, HINT). Hearing performance was then tested again with the selection made by AutoSense OS.
The AutoSense OS selection resulted in significantly better hearing for speech in quiet, loud noise and in the car. Manual selection by participants was variable, even after experience selecting different settings during the 4 week trial. Importantly, sound quality ratings were similar for both manual and automatic selections, meaning the improved performance with AutoSense OS was not at the expense of sound quality! Returning to REM’s Automatic for the People, and a line from my favourite song on the album – Man on the Moon: ‘Did you believe they put a man on the moon?’. Before this study, some may not have believed it possible for an automatic hearing aid algorithm to deliver better hearing than a wearer’s preferred manual selection with uncompromised sound quality. AutoSense OS – Believe!
Want to better understand how AutoSense OS works? Let me introduce you to my friend Oscar the Chameleon! He doesn’t quite walk on the moon, but check out how he – like AutoSense OS – seamlessly adapts to his changing environment. And, if you’d like to read more about AutoSense OS and how it compares to manual selection, read this recent article.
1 Picou E.M., Aspell E. & Ricketts T.A. 2014. Potential benefits and limitations of three types of directional processing in hearing aids. Ear Hear, 35, 339-352.
2 Ringdahl A., Eriksson-Mangold M., Israelsson B., Lindkvist A. & Mangold S. 1990. Clinical trials with a programmable hearing aid set for various listening environments. Br J Audiol, 24, 235-242.
3 Cord M.T., Surr R.K., Walden B.E. & Olson L. 2002. Performance of directional microphone hearing aids in everyday life. J Am Acad Audiol, 13, 295-307.