When you realise that you have a hearing problem, it marks the first step on the road to recovering one of your most valuable senses. Getting your first hearing aids is another big step on your hearing journey, but it is not always the most straightforward one.
Unlike a visual aid such as glasses, hearing aids aren't an instant fix – instead they require a little more time for you to adapt to them.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that your AudioClinic clinician can suggest to help you become accustomed to your new devices. However, researchers are exploring even further ways for those with hearing loss to retrain their ears, thanks to the voices of their loved ones.
A familiar voice
To help those with hearing loss to improve their speech recognition, researcher Professor NancyTye-Murray developed the 'customised learning: Exercises for Aural Rehabilitation' programme, or 'clEAR', for short1.
"The inability to hear and participate in everyday conversations is isolating and can destroy relationships with family, friends and co-workers," said Professor Tye-Murray.
"In my lab, we have been developing computer software to help adults and children with hearing loss practise listening, helping train the ear to better understand the people who are most important in their lives."
The software, which uses both generic voices and those of the user's family and friends, stemmed from an earlier study which found that people with hearing loss benefited from auditory training that used the voice of their most frequent communication partner2 – often their spouse.
Putting the program to practice
What sets the clEAR programme apart is the possibility to use voice recordings of users' loved ones and use them for listening practice. The user's spouse, child, or friend comes in to record their samples, and then Professor Tye-Murray's software edits the audio to be used as part of the training exercises.
"Hearing aids don't just amplify the voice you want to hear — they amplify everything," said Professor Tye-Murray. "So maybe a voice is louder, but it's not necessarily clearer."
"This type of training helps people pull a single voice from the background noise of a crowded restaurant, for example."
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1Washington University in St. Louis, Patients with hearing loss benefit from training with loved one's voice. Accessed July, 2016.
2Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, Auditory Training With Frequent Communication Partners. Accessed July, 2016.