Most people who have been to cocktail parties find them enjoyable occasions perfect for socializing.
But for individuals with hearing loss in Tucson, they aren’t nearly as fun thanks to the limitations of conventional hearing aids.
A group of researchers is studying a new technology that could help people overcome this problem in the near future.
Understanding the Cocktail Party Effect
Conventional hearing aids help those with a hearing impairment by amplifying sounds in the listening environment, enabling them to understand speech more effectively.
But when there are multiple people speaking, hearing aids are unable to target any one specific individual, so they boost the volume of everybody in the room.
This is called the cocktail party effect, a term that was coined back in 1953.
It refers to the brain’s inability to focus on a single sound source (usually speech) while simultaneously blocking out competing noises.
Breakthroughs in technology have improved the ability of hearing aids to overcome distracting background noise but they are not able to isolate speech from one specific source because there is no way for them to detect which speaker the user is trying to listen to.
A new technology promises a potential solution to this problem in the next few years.
Researchers are working on auditory attention decoding (AAD) to see if there is a practical application for a hearing aid that would help overcome the cocktail party effect.
A hearing aid equipped with AAD would compare the listener’s brainwaves with different sound sources and amplify the signal that is most closely related to their brain activity.
This would improve the listener’s ability to focus on one specific person in a crowded room, improving their overall hearing.
Research into AAD is in its very early stages
And while a workable solution is still several years away – currently the technology isn’t portable, requiring instead an invasive surgical procedure – health experts are optimistic that a hearing aid utilizing AAD will be a reality in the not-so-distant future, especially given the fact that the brain is very efficient at focusing on a single individual’s voice and suppressing competing sounds.
“Artificial intelligence certainly sounds like a great option in terms of focused listening and setting precedence on which speaker the listener wants to hear,” says Tricia Ashby-Scabis, director of audiology practices with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland.
AAD-equipped hearing aids might not be available yet, but there are plenty of solutions for people with hearing loss in Tucson.
They might not work perfectly in situations like cocktail parties but offer enough benefits to improve the quality of life for a majority of users.
For more information, contact your Tucson audiologist today.