Photo by Tom Jersø ATV

Hearing Technology options

Friday 07 Jun 13

Did you know:

That the three Danish hearing aid companies, Oticon, Widex and GN ReSound have acquired 45 percent of the world market for hearing aids.

The scene was set for an interesting debate among professionals in all parts of the hearing area when the ATV Group Electrical- and IT (Danish Academy of Technical Sciences) arranged a multidisciplinary meeting 21 May at Widex. One of the invited speakers was Torsten Dau, professor at Centre for Applied Hearing Research, DTU Elektro.

What is the status of the hearing aid industry both commercially and technologically?
What technology exists, and what hearing aid technologies need to be developed in order to improve hearing aid fitting?
Is it possible to have one common vision for all parts? And what would it look like then? Can we expect that the government will continue to pay for more and more technologically advanced devices?
These were some of the topics that were discussed.

The Cocktail-party problem
Professor Torsten Dau gave a presentation about how different aspects of a hearing loss can be measured and how these might be compensated for with modern hearing aids.
There are still various challenges in understanding speech in noise (the “Cocktail Party problem”) for the hearing impaired.
Why can some people understand speech in noise while others have major difficulties even if their reduced sensitivity has been compensated for by a hearing instrument?:
“We have a lot of knowledge regarding the functioning of the auditory system, the impact of hearing loss on auditory and speech perception and effects of advanced hearing-aid signal processing. Nevertheless, we use the pure-tone audiogram as the main source of information in the clinic. Hearing-aid fitting is based only on that, and this is not very impressive!” he concluded.
Torsten Dau encouraged cooperation between research institutes, clinics and hearing-aid industry to move forward, for the benefit of society.
Many of the other guest speakers and listeners agreed with this:
Jørgen Dirach, Director Novo Nordisk A/S, encouraged the cooperation of the medical community and to explore PhD opportunities. There are many examples of other medical conditions where some patients recognize the disease while others ignore it and wait too long to do something about the problem.
“Yes, I agree. We need to come up with better 'first fit' of the hearing aids for all and raise the level. We need to set up higher demands to move forward,” Torsten Dau answered.

Large-scale joint project
“Where are the hearing impaired in the process?” One of the listeners wanted to know.
“They play of course the central role. There may be challenges which are difficult to solve, for example how to compensate for deficits in cognitive processing associated with some hearing losses.
But we have even not started yet to use our knowledge about consequences of hearing loss that are beyond just reduced sensitivity reflected in the pure-tone audiogram. There is still a lot of work to do to understand how hearing loss is influenced by different factors in the individual listeners and which hearing-aid processing strategy should be applied for a given hearing-loss “profile” of a person.
There need to be a large-scale joint project between research institutions, hearing-aid industry and clinics, which involves a large number of test persons,” Torsten Dau suggested.
This position was supported by Vice President Nicolai Bisgaard, IPR & Industry Relations, GN ReSound:
“A large scale would be clearly more informative than the much smaller projects many results are based on.”

"There need to be a large-scale joint project between research institutions, hearing-aid industry and clinics, which involves a large number of test persons"
Professor Torsten Dau

Challenges in the hearing healthcare system
While hearing and hearing loss already are complex there are additional challenges for the hearing impaired people. The entire public hearing-aid rehabilitation system is difficult for individuals to navigate.
There are ‘Framework Conditions’ and many different administrations in the system and hassles to solve so that each user gets the right hearing aid and help. Søren Dalmark, National Chairman of the user organization Hearing Association and Anne-Mette Flinch Department Manager at ‘Syn og Hørelse’ both gave examples of on how intricate the Danish hearing  healthcare system is for the individual user to navigate, because there are different rules and ministries involved in the field.
Photos by Tom Jersø, Danish Academy of Technical Sciences

Read more about the different presentations and recommendations here