Posted on Thursday, September 08, 2016

How do hearing aids tell the difference between sounds?

hearing aids

Today's hearing aids are designed not just to amplify sounds, but to recognize different sounds, and to deliver to the user those sounds that they want to hear. Not only can they sort through different acoustics and wanted and unwanted noises, but they can help focus on one speaker over another speaker. So how can hearing aids tell the difference between sounds? Well, in part, they do this by using digital processing algorithms.

Your brain, in order for you to hear and communicate in noisy background environments, sorts through what is important and unimportant for you to hear. When you have hearing loss, this task becomes more difficult. Which is why hearing loss can cause exhaustion as people with it strain to hear.

Hearing aids help people with hearing loss hear, but for years they had the problem of helping people hear too much and not sorting what people want to hear from unwanted sounds. Today's digital hearing aids are better, thanks to algorithms that let them recognize, classify, and process a myriad of sounds.

Think about the difficult tasks hearing aids have. Background noise can from one direction, many directions like wind, can be stationary, or can move around, or it can be bounced off the acoustics in a room. It can include sounds like fans, refrigerators, the babble of multiple speakers, sharps squeals, and muffled creaks. But that's not the only issues with capturing sound. Because, let's face it, most of us aren't sitting still all day. We move around. We move around when we talk to people or other people move past us or cars whisk by us. This transitory sound can be a real pain when you're trying to hear. But the good news is that now that hearing aids are digital they are meeting this challenge, creating hearing aids that don't just work sometimes in some environments, but that work all the time in all environments. Better still this technology no longer even requires constant user manipulation. Advances are out there that allow the hearing aid to compensate automatically for environment and background noise. So how do algorithms do all of this? Well, let's ask the professionals.

According to Suzette Pace, Au.D. of Cortland Hearing Aids , "Algorithms determine how the hearing aid will process the incoming sound to achieve the desired results for the individual wearer. Based on feedback from the hearing aid wearer, this can often be fine-tuned or tweaked if needed to improve overall satisfaction."

That's pretty cool. And Elizabeth Protti-Patterson (NJ HA #547, PA #496), Au.D. of REM Audiology, adds this, "Today's hearing aids are sophisticated audio processing computers. Since they are computers, the instrument can analyze millions bits of sound in micro seconds. If the analysis reveals significant noise levels and certain types of sound, certain algorithms which determine the hearing aid matrix are activated. For example, if noise levels are intense, comfort in noise setting can automatically be activated. If the input is music, a linear music algorithm which preserves the fidelity of music is activated. If the hearing aid analyses wind type noise, algorithms which reduce the intensity of wind while preserving speech are activated. Algorithms result in automatic functions for the hearing aid user which optimize auditory enjoyment."

Thanks to Elizabeth Protti-Patterson (NJ HA #547, PA #496), Au.D. of REM Audiology and Suzette Pace, Au.D. of Cortland Hearing Aids for their answers. In the Youtube video below, the hearing aid manufacturer, Siemens does a pretty good job of explaining algorithms too and they do it without actually using the word algorithm.

If you'd like to learn more about preventing hearing loss, please see your hearing health professional. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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