Auditory tests which mimic complex listening scenarios

Test series specifically replicates environmental noises that can directly compete with speech frequencies allowing a patient’s hearing deficits to be more accurately mapped

Medical & Biotechnology

Noisy environments are difficult to replicate in an audiologist’s laboratory. Photo: Dan Zen

Hearing loss is present in three of every 10 people over the age of 60. The prevalence of hearing pathology coupled with the average price of hearing aids at $2,300 brings to light the importance of accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.

However, accuracy in diagnosis and treatment is elusive as clinical hearing difficulties often show up in challenging listening environments that involve noisy spaces, multiple speakers, fast speaking rates, and other factors not present in the confines of a hearing testing lab. This partially explains the lack of agreement between hearing tests and what individuals experience in the real world. Hearing tests are generally presented with clear and carefully articulated speech signals with stable and predictable backgrounds. Test signals frequently lack distortions that occur due to room reverberation and such tests almost always lack the visual speech cues that are available in the real world and play a significant role in interpreting speech in high-noise environments. All of this leads to hearing patients who perform acceptably in clinical testing but experience real difficulty outside of the lab.

To provide audiologists with the best tools for assessing and treating patients, Army researchers have developed an array of tests that better capture the range of different kinds of auditory distortions and speech segregation cues listeners encounter in everyday life. The new battery builds on the widely accepted QuickSIN test – a clinical speech-in-noise test designed to rapidly determine the minimum signal/noise ratio (SNR) a listener requires to correctly ID 50% of the keywords in a low-context sentence in the presence of four-talker babble noise.

The new work expands the QuickSIN into a more comprehensive battery of functional hearing tests that address a wide range of factors that might influence speech perception, including the availability of audiovisual speech cues, the impact of room reverberation, speech rate, and the ability to take advantage of binaural and spatial speech segregation cues. This is accomplished by adapting the monaural, audio only stimuli in the clinical QuickSIN test into a set of eight different stimulus conditions each addressing a different type of complex listening environment. As an extension of the technology the expanded QuickSIN test battery can be used as an adjustment technique for hearing aids.

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