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New hearing aid technology passes the restaurant noise test
Date:7/10/2008

The sound of a noisy Chicago restaurant during the breakfast rush the clang of plates and silverware and the clamor of many voices was the crucial test of new hearing aid technology in a study conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The study showed that the hearing aids worked well in a noisy environment the most challenging test for a hearing aid. But the patients wearing the devices didn't need to fly from St. Louis to Chicago to participate in the test. Instead, the restaurant came to the clinic of Michael Valente, Ph.D., director of the Division of Adult Audiology in the Department of Otolaryngology at the School of Medicine. Or at least its sounds did.

"We have a sound room set up to be an exact duplication of being in a loud restaurant. It's real restaurant noise, and it allows us to realistically test hearing aids," Valente says. "One of the most common complaints I hear from people who wear hearing aids is that they have stopped going to restaurants because they can't communicate. So we are testing hearing aid technology that might better help people hear in noisy places."

The study, published in the June issue of the International Journal of Audiology, was the first to use such a setting to test a new hearing aid technology open-fit hearing aids with directional microphones. Open-fit means the devices let ambient sounds into the ear canal, unlike more conventional hearing aids, which completely block off the canal. Canal blockage creates an occlusion effect that makes wearers' own voices sound a little like they are talking from the bottom of a barrel, so open-fit is an attractive new option.

Directional microphones actually aren't a new development. They have been available for many years on conventional hearing aids, but researchers have questioned whether open-fit aids with directional microphones will be effective. Directional microphones help users distinguish conversation from
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Contact: Gwen Ericson
ericsong@wustl.edu
314-286-0141
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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