Several years ago, my team at the Phonak Audiology Research Center (PARC) collected data from a large number of pediatric hearing instrument fitting files to better understand pediatric usage of hearing aids in children. It revealed some interesting observations. For example, the majority of young and school-aged children do not have access to an automatic steering system in their hearing aids.
This data was enlightening because the benefits of automation (e.g., optimizing hearing performance over a greater range of acoustic environments, improve comfort and prevent fatigue in complex and loud environments) are well recognized with our adult patients.
So, why were young and school-aged children not being fitted with hearing aids that have automatic functionalities? I believe there are two main reasons.
First, directional microphones have been avoided because there is a risk that the directional microphone will inadvertently be switched on and lessen the quality of the child’s hearing experience. Second, children have specific acoustic and auditory needs (sitting in a classroom, listening to music, playing in a playground, working in small groups) that may not benefit from conventional automatic steering systems.
Phonak recently put automatic technology into the Phonak Sky V product line for pediatrics. We believe that these challenges are now addressed.
Here’s why — Phonak Sky V activates the directional microphone in combination with a Roger remote microphone ensuring that children can access both the teacher and their peers in collaborative learning environments. Also, the directional microphone mode is adaptive to prevent any suppression of sounds from all directions in quiet. The pediatric settings are customized to prevent suppression of friends talking from the side, as in the cafeteria and in classroom rows and have been customized to recognize and accurately classify situations specifically encountered by children such as recess time on the playground.
Our research has shown that by providing more than a single manual program, which has typically been the case in pediatrics, children are now experiencing greater comfort, reduced listening effort and better speech understanding. To learn more, you can read a recent Phonak Insight article or watch this short video describing our pediatric solutions.
Our team at PARC would love to hear what you have to say about automatic technology for children. Please share your ideas in the comments section below.