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      Research to help improve the quality of hearing aids

      Robyn Hunt’s PhD project at the University of Southampton is testing whether computer algorithms can accurately predict how well hearing aids process speech in noisy environments, to help improve the quality of NHS hearing aids. She tells us more.

      By: Robyn Hunt | 06 March 2019
      Robyn Hunt at PhD student day
      Robyn at our PhD students open day 

      Why did you decide to get involved in this research?

      My younger sister has mid- to high-frequency hearing loss. This means that she really struggles to understand speech, particularly when talking to people with higher-pitched voices, like women and children, and when there’s a lot of background noise. She found school tough because she could not understand her teachers or her classmates and often felt embarrassed when people assumed she was ignoring them. She is a really sociable person, but she finds chatting in noisy places, like restaurants and bars, very difficult and says the noise programs on her hearing aids don’t help her as much as she’d like. I hate to see her miss out and I really want to help people in her situation by working to improve hearing aids and hearing aid testing methods, so that every hearing aid user can experience the best possible quality.

      What is your research about and why have you chosen to conduct this research?

      My research involves testing computer algorithms to see whether they can accurately predict how well hearing aids process speech in the presence of background noise. Usually, measuring the ability of a particular hearing aid to improve speech for the hearing aid user requires lengthy participant trials, which take time and cost a lot of money. If a computer-based test could predict how well a hearing aid works at helping users to understand speech in background noise, this could save hearing aid developers and consumers (the largest being the NHS) a lot of money and time. It could also speed up the development process, leading to improvements to hearing aid quality in a short time frame.

      What do you hope your PhD research will achieve?

      I hope that easier, quicker and cheaper methods of assessing hearing aids will help to speed up the rate at which hearing aid companies are able to develop new and exciting aspects of their hearing aids, including reduction of background noise, enhancement of speech and better music quality. This could lead to improved quality of hearing aids available on the NHS in a much shorter time frame than would be possible otherwise.

      What does the Action on Hearing Loss funding mean to you?

      Without funding from Action on Hearing Loss, I wouldn’t be able to fund my research at all, and I know many of the other researchers supported by Action on Hearing Loss are in the same position. The funding from Action on Hearing Loss means I am able to pursue the research I think is important without having to worry about living expenses, PhD fees and expenses.

      What do you think will be the next big step forward in hearing research?

      Helping people who are deaf or have hearing loss to communicate in everyday situations is really important, and hearing in noisy social spaces is a key problem currently faced every day by millions of people with hearing loss. Development of more effective noise cancellation and speech enhancement in hearing aids and cochlear implants could make a huge difference to those living with hearing loss. I really hope that my research can help to speed up the development of these types of processing in hearing aids and other devices.

      Robyn Hunt

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