Programming hearing aids using speech rather than
Editor: I guess I have to say that this sounds like a no-brainer to me.
It only makes sense that using speech sounds to adjust a hearing aid would
produce better speech recognition than using beeps! Here's the press
release from the University of Florida.
New technology that dramatically improves the effectiveness of hearing
aids stands to help millions of Americans suffering from hearing loss,
says a University of Florida professor whose research helped to develop
"The economic benefits of an advancement like this in a health care
field are tremendous, particularly in a state like Florida where there are
so many elderly and people with hearing impairments," said Alice Holmes, a
professor in UF's Department of Communicative Disorders at the College of
Public Health and Health Professions. "If you develop a hearing loss, you
may end up having to retire early or go on disability. By keeping people
functioning in society, it has all sort of positive outcomes."
At the suggestion of one of Holmes' patients at UF's hearing clinic,
who was severely hearing impaired, she and other UF researchers pioneered
a way to program digital hearing aid devices and cochlear or inner ear
implants, based on speech sounds such as "aba," "ata" and "asha" instead
of tonal beeps. People with hearing loss can now hear spoken words much
more clearly and their hearing aid devices can be adjusted in a fraction
of the time, Holmes said.
"I really think we have the possibility of revolutionizing how digital
hearing devices can be programmed," said Holmes, who collaborated with
Rahul Shrivastav, another UF professor in communicative disorders, and
Purvis Bedenbaugh, a former UF neuroscience professor. "Our next step is
looking into the possibility of accomplishing the same thing with cell
After UF researchers received a patent, Lee Krause, Holmes' patient
whose training in computer engineering led him to propose the idea of
using speech sounds, started the company Audigence Inc. in Melbourne to
develop and market the software.
Audigence, which now has 12 employees, is licensing the technology to a
hearing aid company in Orlando, Holmes said. "We're hoping to have the
product launched in October at the national meeting of the Academy of
Dispensing Audiology in Clearwater," she said.
In addition, a major clinical trial is now under way with an
international hearing aid company that could result in another licensing
agreement within the next year, she said.
The arrival of these products on the market will offer economic
benefits to audiology clinics as well as improving the lives of their
patients, Holmes said. By being able to program hearing aids quicker with
better results, audiologists can see greater numbers of patients in a
shorter period of time, she said.
An estimated 31 million Americans have hearing loss that could be
helped by some form of amplification, yet only about 20 percent of them
use hearing aids, Holmes said. Besides the stigma attached to hearing
aids, many people who should wear them give up because they are adjusted
incorrectly, she said.
"Hearing loss, particularly in the older population, is second only to
arthritis as a permanent disability," she said.
The problem with the traditional method for programming hearing aid
devices is it relies on standardized formulas developed for the average
patient, while the UF technology customizes the tuning to a patient's
individual hearing deficiencies, Holmes said. Hearing loss occurs at
different pitches, which vary from one person to the next, she said.
Krause, chief executive officer and president of Audigence, had lost so
much hearing that he needed a cochlear implant, an electrical device that
is attached in one's head and stimulates auditory nerves. Krause continued
to have difficulty understanding human speech, especially on the phone,
but that changed when it was programmed by speech sounds, Holmes said.
"We do conference calls probably every other day and he leads the
calls," she said. "I almost think he hears better than I do at times."
The University of Florida is one of the nation's largest public
universities. A member of the Association of American Universities, UF
receives more than $550 million annually in sponsored research funding.
Through its research and other activities, UF contributes more than $6
billion a year to Florida's economy and is responsible for generating more
than 77,000 jobs statewide. University of Florida Research; Working for