If you are one of the two million people in the UK who uses a hearing aid and still struggles to hear, hope may be on the horizon. A pioneering new project funded by Deafness Research UK is leading to a greater understanding of why hearing aids do not work for everyone as well as they should. The project is developing a new test for the hard of hearing via the latest research – exposing the secrets of dead regions of the cochlea.
Hearing impairment is often associated with damage to the hair cells of the cochlea (inner ear) and an area of the cochlea with complete loss of function is known as a ‘dead region’. People are often under the impression that hearing aids can ‘restore’ hearing, when in fact they can only ‘aid’ those areas not yet ‘dead’ and are only effective if they are tuned and programmed to compensate precisely for a wearer’s pattern of hearing loss.
Unfortunately, current hearing tests can often miss these dead regions, leading to people receiving hearing aids that amplify sounds at frequencies where the amplification provides no benefit, or in some cases, can even make their hearing worse. New research led by Brian Moore, Professor of Auditory Perception at the University of Cambridge and his group, including Professor Aleksander Sek, has led to the development of a rapid clinical test for detecting the presence of these dead regions – known as the ‘Psychophysical Tuning Curves’ (PTC) test. Funded by Deafness Research UK, Professor Moore and Professor Sek have developed a new PTC test capable of measuring the extent of these dead regions much more precisely than previously possible with existing tests. Developed as a computer program, this PTC test can run on any personal computer (with a good quality sound card and headphones), making it ready to use in the clinic immediately.
“Professor Moore’s work is vital in that it is leading to tangible benefits for those people who rely on hearing aids right now,” said Vivienne Michael, Chief Executive of Deafness Research UK. “Funding the development of tests of auditory function such as this that have a clinically applicable element is an important part of our work and thanks to the new PTC test, many more people who rely on hearing aids are going to benefit from enhanced performance and enhanced hearing ability.”
“This research gives us access to more accurate information about individual patterns of hearing loss at different frequencies and about the extent of dead regions, in turn enabling better fitting of hearing aids,” explained Professor Moore. “For example, if two people have the same audiogram, but one has dead regions, that person’s hearing aids will need to be programmed differently.”
The software for the PTC test is being made free to download from the website of the hearing group at Cambridge: http://hearing.psychol.cam.ac.uk/SWPTC/SWPTC.htm and a paper describing the software implementation of the test has been published in the respected International Journal of Audiology. Dr Ross Roeser, editor in chief of the journal, commented in an editorial that the test “represents a significant new opportunity for audiologists and hearing scientists to gain valuable knowledge of basic physiological processing of the auditory system, and potentially how to serve those with hearing impairment” and added “What a great opportunity for IJA readers to be able to have this valuable information at their fingertips through innovative electronic media”.
Research shows that one in seven of the UK population, or nine million people have noticeable hearing loss and of these, some two million use hearing aids. It is estimated that double this number – four million people – could benefit from using a hearing aid, so in addition to providing grants for clinical projects like PTC tests, Deafness Research UK continues its mission to inform people about the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss – from its innovative Bionic Ear Show, to information leaflets and advice.
The latest leaflet to be launched ‘Helping you to hear better’ has been specifically aimed at those who may find themselves losing their hearing and who are looking for advice on hearing aids. This is freely available, visit http://www.deafnessresearch.org.uk/3562/publications/publications.html or call our freephone Advisory Service 0808 808 2222.
Notes to editors
Photo caption: Professor Brian Moore (right) and Professor Aleksander Sek (left)
About Deafness Research UK
Deafness Research UK is the country’s only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people.
The charity supports high quality medical research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all forms of hearing impairment including tinnitus.
Deafness Research UK is entirely dependent on voluntary donations, gifts and personal legacies. You can donate online at www.deafnessresearch.org.uk , or call 0207 7833 1733 for further information on how to support the charity.
The Deafness Research UK Advisory Service provides free information and advice based on the latest scientific evidence and informed by leading experts, Freephone 0808 808 2222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on research into deafness, tinnitus and other hearing conditions, log on to the website at www.deafnessresearch.org.uk where you can access a wide range of information. Alternatively you can e-mail Deafness Research UK at email@example.com
One in seven people in the UK – almost nine million people – suffer hearing loss.
Deafness Research UK was founded in 1985 by Lord (Jack) and Lady Ashley of Stoke.
In January 2008, Action for Tinnitus Research (ATR) was linked with Deafness Research UK under a uniting direction order under section 96(6) of the Charities Act 1993.
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Ref: DR-UK0358 – PTC is the answer for Dead Regions www.deafnessresearch.org.uk