A new collaborative project between universities, hearing aid manufacturers and other experts will evaluate existing hearing loss treatment. The goal is to improve quality – to the delight of both hearing aid users and society.
If you have hearing loss, a hearing aid can help. This seems simple enough, but unfortunately the reality can be very different. Every tenth person never properly benefits from hearing aids which then often end up in the drawer.
Now, a new, large collaborative project between the University of Southern Denmark, Aalborg University, the Technical University of Denmark, independent tech company DELTA, Danish hearing aid manufacturers Oticon, Widex and GN Resound and the university hospitals in Odense and Aalborg will improve quality so that people with hearing loss can get more out of hearing aids. The project BEAR (Better Hearing Rehabilitation) has a budget of DKK 50 million kroner (6.7 million euros); of that, the industry is contributing 15 million kroner while Innovation Fund Denmark is investing just under 29 million kroner in the project.
Today, if you have hearing problems, you can get a hearing test that results in an audiogram. An audiogram is a graph that shows how well you hear in individual frequency ranges. This is important knowledge when fitting and adjusting hearing aids, but often much more information is needed for someone to fully benefit from hearing aids.
"The audiogram is a simplistic description of how your hearing works. You can have normal hearing thresholds, but, for example, find it difficult to understand what is being said when many people are talking in the same room," explains Project Manager Dorte Hammershøi, Professor in the Department of Electronic Systems at Aalborg University.
Today we adjust hearing aids almost exclusively using audiograms, and that means that many important parameters do not get enough focus, for example, the ability to distinguish speech in noise. The actual hearing aid fitting and adjustment and advice on using it are also likely to play a role in acceptance and satisfaction. The project also addresses these aspects.
The problem of customizing hearing aids has been known for many years, and there are many alternative ways to conduct hearing tests. Among other things, there is a test where one must recognize words that are said in different kinds of background noise. By its very nature, this provides a clearer picture of how well hearing is working.
"The reason we are so focused on audiograms is that right now we can’t put our finger on a specific measurement and say: that’s the test that could enable us to adjust hearing aids better. There are a whole battery of various tests and examinations, but they take time and may require special equipment or training. That is why we need to find out which methods work best," explains Dorte Hammershøi.
The goal of BEAR is to identify new knowledge that will be used as the basis for new standards for better hearing aid fitting and adjustment and follow-up treatment so that hearing aid users get the most out of their hearing aids.
Every year in Denmark around 130,000 hearing aids are customized. This alone costs the state a good 400 million kroner in subsidies. At the same time, a 2006 study by the Danish National Center for Social Research estimates that production losses due to untreated hearing loss among working individuals costs society 2.7 billion kroner each year.