No one disputes that the primary goal of amplification is improving speech understanding, especially when listening situations become more difficult. Understanding speech clearly is one of the top complaints of those with hearing loss, and poses a challenge hearing aid manufacturers are always trying to solve. With our previous platform, binax, we introduced Narrow Directionality―the first hearing aid technology clinically proven to allow wearers to understand speech better in noisy environments than even those with normal hearing*. It is an effective solution for a very big problem. But with this problem solved, what else is there? How can we improve upon better than normal hearing?
It’s not just about hearing, it’s about understanding
Beyond simply being able to understand speech we need to consider the cognitive (listening) effort required for that understanding to take place. We can all relate to the concept of listening effort. Imagine participating in a phone conference over a bad connection, trying to hear your friend in a crowded dance club, or having a conversation with someone who has an unfamiliar accent. In all these situations we can understand, but we have to focus and concentrate hard. Depending on the acoustic situation and the context, listening can require more or less attention and cognitive processing. When the quality of speech is compromised by competing noise, distortion, or missing components, the cognitive effort required comprehending it increases.
Those with hearing loss have to work harder to hear and understand all the time, because hearing loss degrades the ability to perceive speech signals fully and clearly. As a result, the brain has to work extra hard to selectively attend and interpret the incomplete and poor signal in order to extract meaning from it. This increase in cognitive activity is experienced as effortful listening and eventually leads to listening fatigue. By the end of the day, the hearing impaired individual may be so tired simply from trying to hear that they choose to stay home rather than going out to dinner with friends and family. Instead of enjoying a day to the fullest, they may choose to withdraw.
SPEECH reduces listening effort
Not only do we want our wearers to understand speech we want to make it easy for them to understand. This is the underlying goal of the primax™ platform and its key feature, SPEECH, which has been clinically proven to reduce listening effort**. In our next entry, we will explore in greater detail how SPEECH makes it easy for wearers to hear and understand speech throughout the day.
*Two independent clinical studies have shown that Siemens hearing instruments with binaural processing provide better than normal hearing capabilities in certain demanding listening environments.
** Study conducted at the University of Northern Colorado, 2015, examined the effectiveness of the new features of primax by collecting and analyzing ongoing EEG data while subjects performed speech testing. For both primax features SPEECH and EchoShield, the objective brain behavior measures revealed a significant reduction in listening effort when the feature was activated.