For the majority of patients with hearing loss in Walnut Creek, hearing aids are an effective solution that help restore their ability to communicate and improve their overall quality of life.
For all their benefits, these devices run into limitations when it comes to distinguishing between different speakers. But new technology might overcome this issue.
Overcoming Competing Sounds
Conventional hearing aids work by amplifying the volume of everyday sounds, enabling those with a hearing impairment to hear more easily.
Unfortunately, they have no way to target individual speakers, instead boosting the volume of everybody who is talking.
This is known as the cocktail party effect, an inability of the brain to focus its auditory attention on one stimulus while filtering out competing noises.
If you’ve been to a cocktail party and tried to focus on a single conversation but found it impossible over the noisy background chatter, you’ll understand where the phenomenon gets its name.
Scientists may be getting close to developing a solution for this problem.
Auditory Attention Decoding
A new technology called auditory attention decoding (AAD) could overcome the cocktail party effect and provide users with a better listening experience in noisy environments.
Hearing aids utilizing AAD would be able to triangulate the voice or sound the user is focusing on, providing an extra boost to that particular audio source.
Unlike conventional hearing aids, which amplify all sounds evenly, AAD devices automatically separate audio sources and compare them to the listener’s brainwave activity. The source that is most similar is then amplified, making it easier – in theory – to focus on one individual in a crowded room.
Research into AAD is still in its infancy and a widely-available technological solution is probably several years away still.
Currently, the technology isn’t portable and requires invasive surgery.
But researchers are optimistic over the practical benefits of this emerging technology and quick to point out that the brain is surprisingly adept at focusing on a single person’s voice that it wants to pay attention to and filtering out competing sounds.
Tricia Ashby-Scabis, director of audiology practices with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland, says the study “sounds highly promising.”
She notes, “Artificial intelligence certainly sounds like a great option in terms of focused listening and setting precedence on which speaker the listener wants to hear.”
The future may indeed be brighter for patients struggling to overcome the daily challenges of living with hearing loss. There are plenty of strategies available even today to help with quality of life issues; contact your Walnut Creek audiologist for more information.
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