If you’ve ever been to a cocktail party in San Rafael and are hearing impaired, you know how difficult it can be to hold a one-on-one conversation with somebody. The brain’s inability to focus on a sound source while blocking out other irrelevant sounds even has a name: it’s the – no surprise here – “cocktail party effect.” Research believe a solution incorporating a new type of technology holds promise to overcoming this hurdle.
Hearing Aids Have Their Limitations
Nine out of ten people with hearing loss in San Rafael and the rest of the Bay Area benefit from hearing aids. These devices are a boon to the hearing impaired, amplifying sounds so they are easier to hear for those who have difficulties understanding speech. Hearing aids are great in most situations, but they do have limitations.
Current hearing aid technology is unable to isolate individual speakers in a room where there are multiple people talking, so it boosts the volume of everybody. There is simply no way to tell which speaker the listener is trying to focus on.
A new technology called auditory attention decoding (AAD) could provide a breakthrough. AAD measures the brainwave activity of the listener and compares it to other nearby sources in order to find the closest match. The technology is not yet portable so there is no practical hearing aid application available; you’d have to undergo an invasive surgical procedure in order to benefit from AAD currently. But researchers feel it’s only a matter of time before they are able to incorporate AAD into hearing aids. When that happens, those with hearing loss would be able to focus on an individual speaker and the hearing aid would “know” who they were talking to.
Tricia Ashby-Scabis, director of audiology practices with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland, is a believer. “Artificial intelligence certainly sounds like a great option in terms of focused listening and setting precedence on which speaker the listener wants to hear,” she says enthusiastically.
An AAD-equipped hearing aid is realistically a good five years away yet – but technology forever marches forward. There are plenty of traditional hearing aids that can help you overcome the challenges of hearing loss. Contact an audiologist in San Rafael for more information.