A new hearing device launched in Australia by the health care division of Siemens, has provided the first glimmer of hope for those of us who struggle to hear and comprehend speech in noisy environments.
As someone who has lived with a hearing impairment since birth, I can attest to how frustrating it can be to comprehend what is being said when there is background noise. It can also be very frustrating for the person who isn’t hearing impaired when they are trying to make themselves heard and understood by someone who has this type of hearing deficit. I’ve lost count the number of times someone has got angry with me because I couldn’t comprehend what they were saying in a noisy environment.
Speaking to Radio National’s Background Briefing program in November 2014, Phil Nakad, from Macquarie University’s audiology clinic, said this kind of hearing problem is very difficult to fix.
“In terms of speech sounds you typically will see a confusion of consonants. For example, the ‘s’ or ‘f’ sound in ‘sunny’ or ‘funny’ might be a classical example of where a person might mistake one sound and therefore one word for the other. When you miss a few keywords like that in a sentence, then essentially you have missed the sentence or you have guessed inappropriately at the sentence, and this is where you’ll see family members start to comment, you know, that people are just filling in the gaps or nodding and smiling or not answering appropriately, it’s often because they are making those types of confusions between consonants. And the brain wants to hear a continuous and full signal, so the brain essentially, from what we know, fills in those gaps with the most likely option, but not always the correct option¹.”
According to Siemens, their new “binax technology addresses this by helping wearers to follow conversations more easily in environments such as bars, restaurants, cars, meetings and in windy areas.”
The new technology has been tested in two clinical studies which measured participants’ hearing abilities in a loud simulated cocktail party environment.
“At two independent research sites, sentence recognition in surrounding background noise was significantly superior for individuals with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, when aided with binax, compared to individuals with normal hearing.”
binax uses unique “binaural” technology to mimic the way two ears work together to isolate noises. With two hearing instruments fitted, the device can automatically pinpoint the direction of speech in relation to the user, enhancing loudness and clarity to deliver true ‘High Definition Sound Resolution’.
Users can gain further control over their hearing by utilising a phone app to alter the direction of the device’s internal microphones, adjust volume and reduce specific noises.
Siemens Hearing Instruments Head of Audiology Peter McKinnon says binax represented a major technological milestone for the company.
“One hundred years after Siemens began production of its first hearing instrument, we are proud to have introduced a product which has the sophistication to function like a human ear and differentiate between speech and other types of sound,” he said.
“Many people with hearing loss can feel uncomfortable and anxious in social settings as they struggle to understand conversations taking place around them. In some instances they may choose to avoid events and miss out on important moments with their friends and family. Siemens’ binax devices have been developed to make life easier in these situations by greatly improving the clarity and volume of conversations for the listener.”
binax is available in Siemens Pure and Carat hearing devices. Each of these products are receiver-in-canal solutions, with virtually invisible housing that sits behind the ear. When used in conjunction with the Siemens easyTek unit, users can stream telephone calls along with television, stereo and iPod audio sources straight into their hearing device.
Siemens is currently offering a free trial of the product, so people can experience the benefits first hand. Those interested in trialling a binax device can call 1300 787 797 for a referral to their nearest hearing clinic. They will then be able to visit a clinic for a free hearing screen and acquire the product for an obligation free period.
1. Have I got a hearing aid for you!. Background Briefing, ABC Radio National, 30 November 2014. Accessed 26 March 2015.