Hearing aids in entirely new ways
(report from “Hørelsen”, No. 3, June 2017, page 30-31)
The room was full at Kalvebod Brygge in Copenhagen on Wednesday May 19th where IDA (the Danish Engineering Society) had invited everyone with an interest to attend a theme day on health technology with a focus on the development of future hearing aids, and an innovative project aiming at achieving the best possible hearing rehabilitation for the individual user.
By journalist Eva Helena Andersen
So far, having recognized a hearing loss has been a long way from the doctor to tests in an audiological clinique, with a subsequent fitting of the hearing aids, which is manufactured by industry with a wide range of advanced technologies. Is it possible to adjoin the entire process and combine advanced engineering science with neuroscience and audiological guidance to obtain a better and easier solution for the users? A new project with a crossdisciplinary working group is looking into this.
More focus on nerve changes
Dorte Hammershøi, professor in acoustics and hearing at Aalborg University, took the participants through a journey through the ear from the outer ear to the middle ear via the stirrup and the oval window, which transmits the sound variations into the cochlea, where the nervesignals are, and up through the motorway of nerve fibres to the brain.
– We humans have insane dynamics in the ear, and we have a builtin frequency analyser. This has to amaze you engineers, she said, and made the participants smile.
Then she showed examples of different types of hearing losses. Something in the outer ear may block the hearing. Or the nervecells can be damaged. The hair cells, which are really nervecells, has electromotility, and can contract and expand, when excited by weak sound. So far considerable focus has been to the hair cells. But today they are beginning to have more attention to the changes in nerve connections further up the system.
– Some of us know the small miracles, hearing aids are. They are extremely small, with advanced microphone technology to pick up sound. It is, however, important that they be programmed for the invididual user for the best outcome, she explained, and added:
– It appears that we don’t have as strong documentation for the individual’s outcome with the aided hearing.
A new collaboration project between Danish universities, hearing aid producers, hospitals clinics, and a technological service provider therefore look further into the Danish hearing aid rehabilitation. This is done through analyses and documentation of existing methods. The idea is then to propose new and more effective rehabilitation methods, which can increase the quality for both hearing aid users and society at large.
– We know a lot about how the hearing works in real life, but we have less documentation for the experience one obtains with aided hearing. The audiology assistants undergo a two-year long education, of mostly practical nature. One of the things, we in the BEAR project think we should look into, is to upgrade the educational level of the professional testing the individual’s hearing and fitting the hearing aids, so that experience is processed more systematically, explained Dorte Hammershøi.
It has taken time to develop the visions for the project, and the different participating scientists and external partners have met regularly through the last years to find out, what are the needs, and to make the further planning.
– The vision is to improve hearing rehabilitation in Denmark, and all over the world, if possible.
What we imagine for the users in future is that an individual hearing profile is determined for the future user. On the basis of an extended test battery, an extended hearing aid fitting is made, and eventually assessed after the hearing aid is given to the user, and fitted with the right settings. This is tested systematically, so that you end up with individual data, which again can relate back to the hearing aid fitting. This is a considerable challenge we face, and there are already many aspects of hearing rehabilitation, which will not be addressed in the project, e.g. the special aspects of child users. We also have a limited focus on the part, where the users leave the audiological clinic and use the hearing aids in their own environments, she emphasized.
In addition to the presentation by Dorte Hammershøi, Ph.D.-student Asger Heidemann Andersen gave a presentation of computer modeling of the human hearing, and professor Marie Sand Traberg, DTU Elektro, talked about the measurements of blood pressure by ultrasound.
A new large collaboration project between the University of Southern Denmark, Aalborg University, Danish Technical University, the university hospitals in Odense, Aalborg and Copenhagen, DELTA and the hearing aids manufacturers Oticon, Widex and GN Hearing will improve the quality of the hearing aids, so that individuals with a hearing loss will benefit more from their hearing aids.
The BEAR project (Better Hearing Rehabilitation) is a large scale project, which is expected to involve 2000 patients, and has a budget of 50 million DKK. Of these, 15 millioner are sponsored by the participating companies, while the Innovation Fund Denmark has invested approx. 29 millioner and the partners six million kroner in the project. Read more about the project on www.bear-hearing.dk
Did you know that:
– around 130.000 hearing aids are annually fitted for users in Denmark, this costs the Danish state 400 millioner kr. in subsidies
– untreated hearing loss for non-retiree is estimated to cost around 2,7 billion DKK in lost production
– the hearing starts to deteriorate already in the twenties, and the ability to hear weak sounds will be lost with age