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      The latest in hearing aid evolution

      Hearing aids have been around since the 18th century. From the earliest ear horns, they have evolved into what we see today – high tech digital hearing aids. These devices can carry out thousands of digital processes to try and ensure the sound quality is of the highest standard for their users. However, they are still far from perfect, so what comes next? Jesal Vishnuram, our Technology Research Manager, explains.

      By: Jesal Vishnuram | 16 April 2018

      Current hearing aids are able to monitor the sound of the environment they are in and automatically adapt their settings to what they calculate to be the best sound for that environment. However, they do this using generalised preferences and assumptions, not an individual user’s needs. A hearing aid also can’t always figure out what a user wants from each environment. For example, you could be walking along a noisy street on your own, or with someone you want to talk to. The hearing aid will struggle to determine what setting to use when the only information it receives is from a noisy street. Without the social context, it is difficult for it to determine which settings are more beneficial.

      Hearing aid users have the ability to select specific programmes to overcome the social context aspect. For example, you can have a programme for group conversations so that the hearing aid knows to listen for speech in noise rather than to reduce all noise, which might be what you want when you’re walking on a noisy street. However, having to think about changing the programme and doing it can distract the user and increase the amount of effort required to listen to a conversation.

      Machine Learning

      Machine learning is a sub-field of Artificial Intelligence. Artificial intelligence aims to simulate human intelligence to solve a problem. With machine learning, a machine (or computer) copies the processes that people use to learn to improve how it performs a task. So, just as we learn from our experiences, machine learning operates in a similar way. When given a task such as learning how to play a video game, it can analyse the game, different strategies and outcomes and learn from these in order to gain the best result.

      Machine Learning for hearing aids

      Using machine learning in hearing aids has a number of benefits. Up until now, researchers and developers have tried to separate speech from noise by trying to identify gaps in people’s speech, then filtering out the background noise that fills these gaps, and then using the information gained to filter out the same noise sounds throughout the speech as well.

      One of the benefits of this could be that a computer programme can be loaded with a large number of real life sounds, including thousands of speech sounds and background noises, and then be taught how to use a hearing aid’s digital processing capabilities to “filter” the noise. To do this, the machine learning programme would create methods to separate out different sounds and give them markers so that it can distinguish between them. This information would then be fed back into the system, which could then learn to recognise these markers and separate the noise from the speech, learning through its own experience as it listens to similar sound samples.

      If successful, early stage research shows that using machine learning can improve a hearing aid user’s ability to understand words obscured by noise from 10 to 90 percent.

      Where else can this kind of machine learning help people with hearing loss?

      This kind of technology isn’t just limited to hearing aids either. Monitoring and manipulating sounds in this way has the potential to improve things like mobile and smartphone speech recognition as well as for staff on noisy factory floors, to help them communicate without having to remove their ear protection. This would also go a long way towards protecting the hearing of military staff from noise damage – they risk damaging their hearing because there is no easy way for them to communicate when wearing noise protection.

      Find out more

      You can find out more about how technology is improving the lives of people with hearing loss by signing up for our email newsletter, Soundbite. It contains all the latest news from the worlds of hearing technology and research. It only takes a minute to sign up

      Recent Posts

      Victoria runs Marathon for mother who lost hearing in operation

      Victoria Briand is taking on the London Marathon this Sunday to raise funds for Action on Hearing Loss. The mum-of-three is taking on the big challenge after her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour and lost her hearing following lifesaving surgery. Since, their entire family’s lives have changed forever. Read Victoria’s touching story in her own words.

      By: Victoria Briand
      19 April 2018

      Jackie Edwards, 60, runs Marathon

      Being a busy grandmother-of-eight hasn’t stopped Jackie Edwards, 60, from taking on 26.2 miles that is the London Marathon this weekend. Hailing from Evesham in Worcestershire, Jackie has been deaf since the age of four and now wears two hearing aids. By running the marathon with her daughter, Bev, Jackie hopes to raise vital funds for Action on Hearing Loss, a charity that is close to her heart.

      By: Jackie Edwards
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      Getting medicines into the inner ear and improving hearing tests – new grants for hearing research

      We’ve awarded new grants through our Flexi Grant scheme, which provides small grants to researchers around the world to support a variety of activities that benefit hearing research as well as people with hearing loss or tinnitus. Tracey Pollard, from our Biomedical Research team, tells us more.

      By: Tracey Pollard
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      Showcasing the latest hearing research from across the world

      Every year the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Midwinter Meeting brings together hearing researchers from around the world to showcase their work. Dr Carly Anderson, from our Biomedical Research team, attended this year’s meeting, and tells us about the latest research, and how it benefited the junior researchers we funded to attend.

      By: Dr Carly Anderson
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      Recent Posts

      Victoria runs Marathon for mother who lost hearing in operation

      Victoria Briand is taking on the London Marathon this Sunday to raise funds for Action on Hearing Loss. The mum-of-three is taking on the big challenge after her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour and lost her hearing following lifesaving surgery. Since, their entire family’s lives have changed forever. Read Victoria’s touching story in her own words.

      By: Victoria Briand
      19 April 2018

      Jackie Edwards, 60, runs Marathon

      Being a busy grandmother-of-eight hasn’t stopped Jackie Edwards, 60, from taking on 26.2 miles that is the London Marathon this weekend. Hailing from Evesham in Worcestershire, Jackie has been deaf since the age of four and now wears two hearing aids. By running the marathon with her daughter, Bev, Jackie hopes to raise vital funds for Action on Hearing Loss, a charity that is close to her heart.

      By: Jackie Edwards
      18 April 2018

      Getting medicines into the inner ear and improving hearing tests – new grants for hearing research

      We’ve awarded new grants through our Flexi Grant scheme, which provides small grants to researchers around the world to support a variety of activities that benefit hearing research as well as people with hearing loss or tinnitus. Tracey Pollard, from our Biomedical Research team, tells us more.

      By: Tracey Pollard
      12 April 2018

      Showcasing the latest hearing research from across the world

      Every year the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Midwinter Meeting brings together hearing researchers from around the world to showcase their work. Dr Carly Anderson, from our Biomedical Research team, attended this year’s meeting, and tells us about the latest research, and how it benefited the junior researchers we funded to attend.

      By: Dr Carly Anderson
      12 April 2018

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