Hearing aids provide excellent benefit to the majority of people with hearing loss in La Verne. But there are certain instances in which their limitations prevent users from getting much benefit out of them. Cocktail parties are an excellent example.
What is the Cocktail Party Effect?
Hearing aids work by boosting the volume of sounds in the atmosphere, helping people hear more effectively in many situations. But the devices aren’t perfect, especially when there are multiple speakers or competing sounds. Conventional hearing aids are unable to target specific people, so they amplify the volume of everybody in the room. This is known as the cocktail party effect, a phenomenon first mentioned in 1953. The cocktail party effect refers to the brain’s inability to focus on a single sound source, usually speech, while suppressing other noises. While technological advances have greatly improved the ability of hearing aids to block out background noise, they have difficulty isolating speech from an individual source without knowing which speaker the listener is focusing on.
But a solution might be close at hand.
Scientists are experimenting with a new technology called auditory attention decoding (AAD). Hearing aids using AAD would compare the brainwaves of listeners with sound sources to determine which source is most similar, and then amplify that signal to improve hearing. This would improve the user’s ability to focus on a single individual in a crowded room, providing a solution to the cocktail party effect.
AAD research is just beginning and a widespread solution is at least a good five years away, according to experts. At the moment the technology isn’t portable – meaning it can’t yet be adapted to hearing aids – and would require an invasive surgical procedure. But scientists are optimistic that technology will improve to the point that a practical application will one day be available for hearing-impaired listeners in La Verne and across the United States. The brain is highly adept at focusing on a single person’s voice and filtering out competing sounds, so it’s likely most users would experience a tremendous benefit from hearing aids equipped with AAD.
Tricia Ashby-Scabis, director of audiology practices with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland, believes the research study is promising and says, “Artificial intelligence certainly sounds like a great option in terms of focused listening and setting precedence on which speaker the listener wants to hear.
While AAD may be years away, there are plenty of solutions to help you hear better and communicate more effectively. Your La Verne audiologist is happy to assist you!