Getting better hearing aids

We're funding research to create a better way of testing hearing aids. Helping people to get the best hearing aids for their hearing loss and to speed up development of new hearing aids.

The NHS spends about £60 million on hearing aids a year. So you’d expect they make sure that the people getting them get the right hearing aid for their type of hearing loss, right? Well the fact is, there isn’t a well-established way of knowing what type of hearing aid would give the clearest, best quality, sound and speech information to the person getting them.
So should we just fund a study to look at the quality of sound and speech that people with hearing aids experience, and thoroughly compare different hearing aids to see which ones give people the best listening experience? Well we could, but that would be expensive, time consuming and we’d need to repeat it every time new hearing aids are put on the market.
So instead, we’re funding a study by Robyn Hunt at the University of Southampton, to create an objective test of hearing aid quality. Which in the case is an automatic/computerised test.
An objective test would allow us to reliably predict the level of  sound and speech quality that a particular hearing aid could give to a person with hearing loss. It would allow hearing aid providers, like the NHS, to rapidly identify hearing aids likely to provide good sound quality and speech understanding, and avoid the NHS potentially spending millions of pounds on low quality hearing aids.
Our PhD student, Robyn, will look at several ‘objective’ measures that could help to predict sound quality and speech understanding for listeners with hearing aids. Small groups of people with hearing loss will be asked to rate the quality of speech that they hear with their hearing aids, so that Robyn can also measure their experiences.
Robyn will then feed this data into a ‘neural network’, a computer system that can learn patterns in data, to link the objective measures to the experiences of people using hearing aids. This will help to create an improved set of objective measures that can be used to rate the quality of new and existing hearing aids.
Benefits for people with hearing loss
If we can improve the objective measures, this will help hearing aid manfacturers to speed up the development of new hearing aid technology. They would be able to adapt designs and features of hearing aids using these objective measures, before having to carry out expensive and time consuming tests on large numbers of volunteers with hearing loss.
This study could make a huge difference for people with hearing loss. Not just by helping to give people the best possible hearing aids for their hearing loss, but it will also assist manufacturers in designing new hearing aids that deliver clearer speech to the person using them.