Hearing loss has a tendency to make other problems worse, from depression to dementia. This is especially true in seniors, and as the American population ages, many fear that the negative effects of hearing loss will only increase. Hearing aids offer significant help for the hard of hearing, but less than half of those who could benefit from these devices actually wear them. Washington University Nancy Tye-Murray researcher is developing a program that could improve speech understanding for everyone with hearing loss, including those who don’t wear hearing aids.
Aural rehabilitation through online exercises
To help those with hearing loss have easier conversations in their day-to-day lives, Tye-Murray and her team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are developing software tools to aid speech recognition and provide ongoing contact with an audiologist. They are calling the program clEAR, or “customized learning: Exercises for Aural Rehabilitation”.
In 2016 Tye-Murray, along with the program’s co-founder Brent Spehar, made their uniquely helpful software available to the patients and hearing health-care professionals when they launched their St. Louis-based startup company clEAR.
You can learn more about the clEAR software on their user-friendly website here. The company’s objectives include helping those with hearing loss to:
– recognize the speech of their frequent communication partner (FCP) as well as everyday talkers.
-exercise the brain and the important thinking skills that stave off cognitive decline and dementia.
-increase their participation in social situations by being an active participant in conversations.
-have reduced stress levels during routine family conversations.
-better recognize speech in noisy situations.
These speech exercises can complement your existing hearing technology, but they will also aid speech understanding for those who don’t currently wear a hearing aid.
How do the clEAR exercises work?
The clEAR software helps by allowing users to practice recognizing common words and sounds, and it is designed to be entertaining in the way that an online game would be. The most important difference between this program and other, similar speech-recognition tools is the user’s ability to practice listening to specific voices.
Another key difference between this and other systems is that each patient works one-on-one with an audiologist, who acts as a guide, monitors the patient’s progress, and offers encouragement and advice throughout the training. Tye-Murray’s research has revealed that patients do better when they know that a professional is invested in their hearing health outcome.
It was important to Tye-Murray that the software be helpful to anyone–whether hearing aids, cochlear implants, or none of these tools are used. She also noted that this training program helps people practice secondary cognitive skills that are crucial to understanding speech, such as auditory attention, auditory working memory, and auditory processing speed.
Training with a loved one’s voice
The clEAR training software lets patients practice listening to the voices they most want to hear, and this is proving to be one of the most valuable aspects of the program. The customizable software allows the patient’s loved one to record audio clips, which are then edited by the program itself. Often spouses, children or grandchildren will record their voices–and listening practice can begin immediately after recording is finished.
Tye-Murray’s research has shown that patients exhibit improved recognition of speech when practicing with a familiar voice, as opposed to a generic one. Her findings, recently published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, disprove the belief that familiarity with a voice may limit a patient’s ability to improve their understanding of that same voice.
Why is clEAR necessary?
“Hearing loss destroys self-identity,” Tye-Murray says. “The inability to hear and participate in everyday conversations is isolating and can destroy relationships with family, friends and co-workers.” For this reason, she hopes her software will help adults and children to train their ears to better understand their loved ones.
“Conversation is a cooperative effort—there are implicit rules that people follow when speaking with another person,” she noted. “But when people have hearing loss, they break these implicit rules without realizing it. It may appear that they’re not paying attention, but the problem may be simply that they can’t hear what’s being said. They miss subtle cues, and that can make conversation difficult. We want to bring these problems into the light and talk about them, deal with them and come up with solutions that help patients communicate with the people who are most important in their daily lives.”
Treating Hearing Loss
If you are experiencing hearing loss, don’t wait to seek treatment! Contact us at Hearing Health in Portland today for a hearing test and begin your journey to better hearing and communication.