We all know that hearing aids are designed to amplify sounds. So is there a need to design a hearing aid feature specifically for soft input sounds like speech? YES!
Close your eyes for a second and image all the times that you lower your voice to say something in a softer than usual level. Is it to remind someone special in your life of your affections? Those intimate ‘sweet nothings’ that are whispered to a partner… Making story time with your children more dramatic?… Or even those times when you had to admit “I am sorry”?
Soft speech encompasses such a range of listening situations, carries such a variety of emotions and plays such an importance in our everyday listening needs, particularly for those whose lifestyle is primarily in quiet environments. And it is more than just whispered speech, it could just be someone that is naturally softly spoken, or it can be speech from a distance. Even though as an audiologist I know that good communication tactics ideally should be face to face or at minimum same room conversation, I do find myself guilty of doing that thing that we should not do …. trying to talk to family members from a different room!
So here is a trick question for you. Which factor do you think is the best predictor of a patient acquiring hearing aids?
- They express interest in acquiring hearing aids
- Their audiogram shows a hearing loss
- They report difficulty hearing in quiet
- They report difficulty hearing in social situations
Compelling evidence out of Australia
According to a large Scale Data Experiment, conducted in Australia with data on 630 participants from 236 clinicians the answer is c. Difficulty hearing in quiet was the most relevant hearing problem for predicting hearing aid acquisition. And there was a strong correlation that if the client expressed significant difficulties listening in quiet when unaided, this almost inevitably resulted in clients reporting a large benefit from their hearing aids. The study showed that the clients` perception of the difficulties their hearing is causing them has a greater influence than the hearing thresholds in prediction of acquisition and benefit of hearing aids. 1
That is why Phonak has designed a new intelligent approach to amplification of important soft input sounds. like speech. Speech enhancer is an adaptive feature that is designed to enhance the peaks of a modulated signal. To avoid over amplification, the feature is most effective with soft speech inputs and in quiet sound environments. The result is an additional boost in gain, in frequencies where the soft speech signal is detected.
The proven benefits of ‘hearing in quiet’
In a uniquely designed study, conducted by Hörzentrum Oldenburg, Germany, it was shown that Speech Enhancer significantly reduced listening effort and was clearly preferred in regards to speech intelligibility.2
Study participants listened to recordings simulating four distances (1, 2, 4 and 8 meters), with Speech Enhancer ‘ON’ versus ‘OFF’, and had to rate their preference. The results showed that when Speech Enhancer was activated, it was clearly preferred with regards to listening effort and speech intelligibility, particularly when speech was at a longer distance. Adaptive Categorical Listening Effort Scaling (ACALES) further confirmed that the use of Speech Enhancer resulted in significantly less listening effort, particularly at a distance.
We already have shown that Phonak beamforming technology can reduce listening effort in challenging environments.3 So it is exciting to show that Phonak also supports reduced listening effort in quiet environments.
How it contributes to well-being
Mental fatigue resulting from ‘listening effort’ is often experienced by people with hearing loss due to the increased demand on cognitive resources. 4,5 Hence being able to reduce listening effort in quiet environments, in addition to the stereotypical challenging social environments, means a the use of a hearing aid like Phonak Audéo Paradise, that combines Speech Enhancer and beamforming technology, can contribute to one’s overall cognitive well-being. Additionally there is growing evidence showing that the use of hearing aids can improve quality of life, social interactions and relationship satisfaction6 and memory.7
These results are so relevant in the current times where many people are socially distancing and spending more time at home. So now whispered declarations of affection can be effortlessly heard, even from a distance.
To learn more about the benefits of Speech Enhancer, I invite you to read a Field Study News “AutoSense OS 4.0 -significantly less listening effort and preferred for speech intelligibility.”
And if you would like to learn more about the well-being benefits of hearing well, I recommend you read the following Theory to Practice interviews: When listening feels like work and Hearing health and social connectedness.
- Dillon H, Hickson L, Seeto M. (2018). Hearing aids: What audiologists and ENTs should know. Keynote address: World Congress of Audiology. Cape Town, SA..
- Appleton-Huber, J. (2020). AutoSense OS 4.0 – significantly less listening effort and preferred for speech intelligibility. Phonak Field Study News, retrieved from www.phonakpro.com/evidence accessed November 30th 2020.
- Hétu R., Riverin L., Lalande N., Getty L. & St-Cyr C. 1988. Qualitative analysis of the handicap associated with occupational hearing loss. Brit J Audiol, 22, 251–264.
- Kramer S.E., Kapteyn T.S. & Houtgast T. 2006. Occupational performance: Comparing normally-hearing and hearing-impaired employees using the Amsterdam checklist for hearing and work. Int J Audiol, 45, 503–512.
- Winneke, A., Schulte, M., Vormann, M., Latzel, M. (2018). Spatial noise processing in hearing aids modulates neural markers linked to listening effort: an EEG study. Audiology Online. Article 23858.
- Kamil RJ, Lin FR. The Effects of Hearing Impairment in Older Adults on Communication Partners: A Systematic Review. J Am Acad Audiol. 2015;26(2):155-182.
- Karawani, H., Jenkins, K., & Anderson, S. (2018). Restoration of sensory input may improve cognitive and neural function. Neuropsychologia, 114, 203–213.