Do Hearing Aids Help in Noisy Places? An Interview with Phonak

Can you hear well when it's noisy?

Can you hear well when it’s noisy?

Do you struggle to hear in lots of noise? Lipreading Mom has a confession to make: I do. Restaurants, group socials, my children’s school events, windy outdoor venues. Even with my hearing aids, these places are a challenge for my ears.

I recently interviewed a representative with Phonak, a large manufacturer of hearing technology based in Switzerland. A couple of my questions concern the problem of hearing in noisy situations and how Phonak is addressing the issue. Is there any hope for those of us with hearing loss in these situations?

Lipreading Mom: Phonak has several new hearing aid products publicized on its website. What sets these newest hearing aids apart from what is currently on the market (i.e., Phonak Audéo Q, Bolero Q, Virto Q, and Naída Q, water-resistant products)?

Phonak: The “Q” from those product names stands for Quest, our new platform. The Quest platform was introduced in October 2012 and was presented with our BTE and ITE products Bolero Q and Virto Q. This platform is based on the unique Binaural VoiceStream Technology. The unique ability to stream in real time, bi-directionally, with the full audio bandwidth has already led to Phonak hallmark features such as ZoomControl and StereoZoom. By leveraging deep audiological insights obtained from hearing care professionals that work with Phonak products every day and pushing the boundaries of technology even further, Binaural VoiceStream Technology™ is now able to help our clients hear and interact better in the most challenging situations. These include listening in a windy situation and listening in loud noise. With the development of the new features Speech in Wind and auto StereoZoom Phonak has conquered two more challenging sound environments. You can watch an interview of Phonak Senior Research Audiologist Gurjit Singh talking about the benefits of Binaural VoiceStream Technology here.

Wind noise has always proved a challenge to hearing aid wearers with even a gentle breeze disrupting clarity. Speech in Wind first detects the wind noise level in both hearing aids. Then, through sophisticated binaural processing the results are compared in real-time. The aid with the better speech signal is identified and the good signal is streamed to the other side. The resulting increase in speech intelligibility has been measured to be as high as 40%. You can watch and hear a demonstration of Speech in Wind here.

The second new feature, auto StereoZoom, is the only technology capable of narrowing the focus sufficiently by using Binaural VoiceStream Technology™. This leads to a significant 3 dB improvement in signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). For users this means an improvement in speech intelligibility of up to 45%. Thanks to the technical enhancements of the Quest platform, StereoZoom is now integrated into the SoundFlow automatic program. This eliminates the need for users to make manual adjustments. The hearing aid automatically focuses on the voice they want to hear, allowing them to effortlessly interact in the most challenging of hearing environments. You can watch and hear a demonstration of auto StereoZoom here.

With the introduction of Audéo Q and Naída Q in April we have further expanded the Quest platform with two new product lines and now offer targeted solutions for all degrees of hearing loss. Audéo Q enhances the spontaneous acceptance and enables more signal, less noise and better understanding in more listening situations – even with open fit. The new Tinnitus Balance Portfolio – available with Audéo Q – offers hearing care professionals essential tools to support a variety of tinnitus management philosophies. The Water Resistant Naída Q product family delivers premium performance for people with severe to profound hearing loss.

Additionally to the Quest platform for hearing aids We also recently announced Roger, a new digital standard that we describe as ‘bridging the understanding gap’, in noise and over distance, by wirelessly transmitting the speaker’s voice directly to the listener. Its speech-in-noise performance has already been scientifically proven to surpass that of today’s existing FM and equivalent digital wireless microphone systems.

How it works is that the person with hearing loss simply attaches a tiny Roger receiver to their hearing aids or CI, while the speaker wears a Roger wireless microphone, such as inspiro, to complete the Roger system. This technology transmits the speaker’s words, without any distracting background noise, to their hearing aids/CI’s, which really helps the listener to better hear and understand what’s being said.

Roger is available first for the school market, from June this year, meaning it will enable thousands of children with hearing loss to hear, understand and do better in school.

I noticed there is a link at Phonak.com in which to have one’s hearing tested online. How does that work?

The basic approach of the test is to make a so called SPIN test (speech in noise). So each sound is a combination of a speech signal and a background noise. The speech sounds and the background sound are separated to create different signal-to-noise ratios.

The background noise is a noise signal (e.g. White noise, Pink noise, ICRA noise, etc.) and equal for each speech sound. The sound samples are presented in a 3×3 matrix and are visually supported by pictograms. When the user starts the test the sound examples are randomly presented, 3 times each. The user then has to select the pictogram of the identified speech sound or has to press “No understanding”.

Depending on the result for each sound sample the SNR is increased (“No understanding” or wrong selected sound pictogram) or decreased (by identification of the right speech sound).

For an accurate measurement of your hearing ability, you should always consult with a qualified hearing care professional.

In this manner a SNR threshold as a measurement for the hearing capabilities of the user can be estimated.

Before starting the hearing test the user has the opportunity to set the presentation level of sounds. A rough calibration can be done by a presentation of an appropriate sound example and setting a moderate loudness level by the user. As second input information the age and the gender of the user is also asked. This information can be used to estimate the age-related hearing loss for the final result presentation.

At the end of the hearing test a summary with pre-defined user information’s for further recommended actions is presented.

It is important to keep in mind that this online hearing screening is for informational purposes only. Taking a hearing test online does not replace a professional hearing evaluation. For an accurate measurement of your hearing ability, you should always consult with a qualified hearing care professional.

What is the Hear the World Foundation, and how can LipreadingMom.com readers support its work?

The Hear the World Foundation is a Sonova Group Initiative and is committed to improving the quality of life and promoting equal opportunities for people with hearing loss globally since 2006. The Foundation has a special focus on projects that support children in reaching their development milestones and realizing their full potential in life regardless of their hearing loss. To date, the Hear the World Foundation has been involved in over 45 projects on all 5 continents and has, thus, already given thousands of people with hearing loss the chance of a better life. Further information on the Foundation’s project work is available in the activity report.

Starting in June Hear the World will also be focusing on prevention and education in addition to its worldwide charitable work.

Topics will include:

Babies and hearing loss (June/July 2013), with stories on the legal situation and handling of new born screenings in different geographical regions, special topics like cesarean and newborn screenings, information on types and degrees of hearing loss and how to deal with it (hearing aids, CI)

Development of speech and language capabilities (September/October 2013), with stories on the reasons for hearing loss in children, warning signs that a child suffers from hearing loss, Role of hearing for speech and language development as well as tips for parents on how to support their child with hearing loss in daily life situations.

Education and hearing loss (November/December/January 2013/14) with stories on the situation of children with hearing loss at school, the concept of inclusion, challenges for (regular) schools, teacher, pupils and parents as well as technological solutions to support children with hearing loss in their education.

People can help Hear The World advocate their objectives by:

1. Liking them on Facebook and spreading the word through social media.

2. Help them reduce hearing loss, by encouraging friends and family to protect and cherish their hearing

3. Make a donation to help them enable children with hearing loss to have access to hearing health care, an education, integrate into the community and realize their full potential in life.

4. Invite people that you know to apply to the “52 children” program that gives one child in need per week the gift of better hearing.

Phonak’s HearingLikeMe.com allows anyone touched by hearing loss to share their experiences. How can LipreadingMom.com readers get involved?

HearingLikeMe.com is an online community for those who have been touched by hearing loss. The site features stories of children and adults who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, as well as the parents, spouses, and hearing professionals who care for them.

Membership is free, and it opens the door to forum discussions, the opportunity to share a personal hearing loss story, and a world of videos, articles and comments about the challenges — and successes — of hearing loss. It is advocacy in action.

When your audience gets involved with HearingLikeMe, they immediately become part of a special community. The more involvement we have, the stronger the community becomes.

Shanna, you may want to visit our “Spread the Word” page, where we have a number of digital assets that bloggers and journalists can download or copy for use on their own site. If you have any other needs, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Please feel free to share any other information about Phonak, its services, and products.

Phonak has recently decided to invest more resources and energy to engage directly with people on social media channels. We are aware that people talk about Phonak on those channels and we want to be part of those conversations in order to improve the overall experience people have with our products . In this regard we are making an effort to consolidate our presence and would like to invite everybody that is willing to have a conversation with us to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Google+. You can also subscribe to our official Youtube channel and for those interested we even have a presence on Instagram where we would love to see more pictures of people with #Phonak hearing aids

~*~*~*~

Readers—Share Your Experiences

How do you cope with noisy hearing situations? Please share your comments below—Lipreading Mom likes to read them.

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14 thoughts on “Do Hearing Aids Help in Noisy Places? An Interview with Phonak

  1. I just started using the phonak naída q model and I DEFINITELY see a difference in background noise!

    Ashley Lane Young

  2. Interesting article! I would like to try Phonak again but my first experience with other Phonak aids was not good! The audiologist did not know how to program the Phonak aids so it was very frustrating! I’ve interviewed 2-3 new audiologists but no one seems to be recommending Phonak and they say other companies make the programming much easier and provide better support. I am not looking for an audiologist who is “tops in Phonak sales” but looking for one who is very proficient with programming and intersted in helping me hear the best I can. Does anyone know how I go about finding a knowledgable Phonak audiologist in my area? Thanks!

    • It is unfortunate that you have had difficulty finding someone comfortable with fitting Phonak. Recommendations from hearing care professionals can range as you have expressed and these stem from a variety of experiences, comfort levels, etc. There are several things that you can do if you would like to try Phonak products.

      We have a listing of professionals that are comfortable fitting our products that can be found here: http://ow.ly/lhqx5. These folks are experienced fitters who can review your specific needs and determine with you what would be the best solution.

      Another option would be if you already have a relationship with your current professional, this professional can ask Phonak to have an experienced trainer or support person either work with them face to face or via the phone (depends upon their comfort level).

      We hope this will help you try Phonak products again and have a satisfying experience this time around.

      • Thank you very much for the information you provided. One question about the list of professionals listed on the website you provided. Are they listed in the order of their proficiency and expertise with fitting Phonak aids? In other words, I would be willing to travel a bit if the #1 listed office is the best with Phonak. There are others closer to me but further down the list. I would like to try Phonak again but need to know that I will be working with the BEST due to poor experience last time. Thanks again!

      • Linda – Thanks for your feedback. I will again share your question with my Phonak contact person…and I hope you get the info you need soon.

        Lipreading Mom

  3. Do you hear or listen the spoken language?? so it s good for hearing but not for Deaf humans if you mind.. I m tired of all those lies going on from your own companies.. Leave Deaf children alone after all you dont understand the truth.. Stop being so denial about us, Deaf humans who do not hear or listen the spoken language with any deadly hearing devices .. It s not safe for us to have it so be it.. Deaf will be always deaf. Look up the dictionary if you dont know what it means.. Thank you. Sighs! I m so sick of this BS going on to force those Deaf kids to have it .. Mind your own damn business of our being deaf as is. Leave Deaf babies and Deaf children alone.. People cannot make them to stay on a hearing or become a hearing. No more emotional manipulation and lies/scams against us , Deaf humans. These companies misused us all along to make their parents to believe in medical s lies / scams that turns me off completely. Lipreading is not a great thing for us to deal with for so many years.. so therefore there is no difference between Hearing aid and Cochlear Implant.. What a big joke for being so selfish and greed to make money off of us after all it s not working so well for most of us..

  4. Linda – The order the fitters are listed in on the map has nothing to do with their level of proficiency and expertise with fitting Phonak aids.
    We do not have the possibility to recommend a fitter over an another one, however as stated before, the fitter you will choose can be assisted by a Phonak trainer or support person.

    We are sorry not to be able to help you more in choosing the right fitter for you but we are confident that the ones on our list are experienced enough to give you a good service.

    Please let us know how it goes either here or directly on our twitter account or facebook page
    twitter: http://www.twitter.com/phonak
    facebook: http://www.facebook.com/phonak

  5. the risk of hearing loss can be higher than being exposed to noise alone. Controlling noise and using hearing protectors are insufficient for preventing hearing loss from these chemicals. However, taking antioxidants helps prevent ototoxic hearing loss, at least to a degree.

  6. I had a sudden hearing loss in October 2012. I also have a partial hearing loss in my “good ear” but did not know it until I lost the hearing in one ear and went in for testing. I am a kindergarten teacher and got the new Phonak Q hearing aids so I would be able to return to the classroom; there is no way I can teach again because of background noise. I can’t even have a conversation with people at my table when eating out in a restaurant. I just attended a professional conference and could understand the speaker but could not communicate in breakout sessions because of the background noise. I was unable to hear enough words to even fake it; it was a horrible experience, as I realized my career is over and so my income. I have never tried any other hearing aids, but this hearing aid does not provide enough background noise reduction for me. Since I am completely deaf in one ear, I also bought the microphone aid to work with my regular hearing aid. They do help my everyday hearing. Unfortunately, hearing aids were also not covered by my insurance, so it was a huge expense and did not serve it’s purpose of returning to my job.

  7. Kathleen,
    I have a similar hearing loss as yours. I have the Phonak Audeo IX’s (non-spice chip) with remote, icom and TV link which I purchased 3+ years ago, spending over $5,000 with no insurance coverage. The audiologist from whom I purchased the aids, was not proficient in programming them so my experience was not a good one. Since my current Phonak aids are now outdated, I have been contemplating trying the new Q aids but am fearful the same thing will happen with the programming, even with a new audiologist. A few new audiologists I’ve consulted with, seem to be leary of Phonak due to the complicated programming process. Are you still on the trial period with the aids? Perhaps they are not programmed properly – aids are only as good as the programmer!!! Try not to give up on your teaching career just yet! I would love to correspond with you via email and have some additional info I can provide which will be helpful to you. Hang in there, I know and understand how difficult and frustrating hearing loss can be!

  8. Pingback: Phonak Hearing Aid | The Best Hearing Aids

  9. i want to know what is noise reduction algorithm being used here modulation or spectral subtraction. i am doing my dissertation in digital hearing aids and i need this kind help from you.

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