Critical Needs


The ABCs of Meeting Critical Listening Needs of Individuals with Hearing Impairment

By Max Stanley Chartrand, Ph.D.
(Behavioral Medicine)


Today, more Americans than ever before suffer the effects of hearing impairment. Estimates range from 36 to 40 million, including the more transparent yet every-bit-as-important serious high frequency hearing losses. Most sufferers are not even aware that their hearing is a serious health threat, challenging their physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.

Recent research is replete with evidence that uncorrected hearing loss contributes to a host of health implications, including depression, anxiety, hypertension, acidosis, memory disorders, and creates veritable psychosocial barriers.

The good news is that a wide range of options is now available that can benefit every level of impairment, from mild losses that primarily need help in critical listening circumstances, or moderate losses that suffer stress and challenges in just about all acoustic environments. And then there are the steep high frequency losses where dogs barking are heard just fine, but in the presence of background noise makes speech overpowered. This same level of background, however, poses no challenge for normal hearing individuals.

Today, these challenges can be resolved thanks to phenomenal technological advancements in amplification and assistive technology. Let us count the ways.

The new technology features artificial intelligence that learns to hear as the user wears the device in various circumstances, such as in quiet, crowds of people, traveling in an automobile, in meetings, or while listening to television. The lower microphone impedance coupled with virtual loudness growth accommodation allow more intimate communication, where a whisper can be heard without a shout being uncomfortable.

The wider bandwidth of three peak hearing technology brings in a more lifelike spatial feel not unlike real life acoustics, allowing the brain to decide to which competing sounds it might wish to attend. It is our purpose here to provide some hypothetical examples that may or may not apply to the reader. For each hearing impairment is as different as the individuals involved.

However, there are some commonalities that we can delineate with confidence.

Hearing Loss A, for instance, without amplification will be overpowered with even moderate background noise. With typical single peak hearing amplification, improvements are evident in moderate noise levels but virtually nonexistent in severe noise conditions. However, with three peak fidelity (as depicted above), additional acoustic clues allow for dramatically improved speech in noise ability and better spatial proportioning.

Audiogram B has the additional difficulty of losing all central auditory ability in unaided condition. In ordinary single peak hearing aid technology there is little benefit spatially, because one ear will sound amplified (hollow) and the other ear will be overpowered transcranially. In wide band three peak technology, however, having more spatially bandwidth and less low frequency transients, the sound is equalized to normal loudness growth and the listener enjoys two ear hearing much better.

Audiogram C is usually accompanied with moderate to severe tinnitus in addition to having tremendous difficulty hearing in noise. Single peak correction offers little benefitómerely amplifying noise and speech almost identically. This type of severe hearing loss, on the other hand, receives optimal benefit with the wider bandwidth of three peak technology, because the acoustic environment is larger and puts more space (aka spatial separation) between the sounds in the environment. Few background sounds occur above 2KHz, even in speech babble, so that these very difficult-tofit losses enjoy better speech discriminate in the presence of competing sounds. Furthermore, any existing "islands of hearing" can be benefitted by an extended range, so that better speech understanding is enjoyed, as well as better distance discrimination.

These and other benefits of the new technology can be demonstrated with various speech listening situations, with music, and warning signals. Then hearing impaired individuals and their loved ones can see and hear vividly how even the more serious hearing losses enjoy benefits of listening ease, greater self confidence, and more cognitive awareness.

It behooves every hearing impaired individual to check out what is new, what just may make their life better, and at the most affordable price!