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Study: Are familiar voices more recognizable?

Auditory training might improve the ability of older participants with hearing loss to recognize the speech of their spouse and improve communication interactions between couples, according to a new study

Historically, audiologists have tended to assume that familiarity with a voice might limit the patient’s ability to further improve understanding of that same voice, but researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are hoping to determine whether auditory training with the speech of an individual’s spouse can lead to enhanced recognition of their spouse’s speech.

 The Study

By listening to recordings of words being spoken by a range of different voices, including spouses’, researchers were able to track communication and speech recognition.

“Our program includes traditional generic voices, but we also have a recording and editing system that lets patients train with the voices of people they most want to hear—often spouses, children or grandchildren,” said researcher Tye-Murray in an interview for Futurity.org. “The patient’s spouse, for example, sits down and records the samples. Our software edits the audio clips. As soon as the recording is finished, the patient can begin training with his or her spouse’s voice.”

Each participant worked with an audiologist, who served as a coach, providing encouragement and monitoring progress. Tye-Murray says her research shows that patients want to know that a professional cares that they are training, and they want the professional’s encouragement and structured guidance.

“Tye-Murray says her research shows that patients want to know that a professional cares that they are training, and they want the professional’s encouragement and structured guidance.”

The training program can be used by anyone dealing with hearing loss, whether hearing aids, cochlear implants, or no hearing devices are in use.

“Some people with hearing loss don’t want to use these devices,” Tye-Murray told Futurity.org. “We want to make sure people know they can use this training program even without augmented hearing.

“Conversation is a cooperative effort—there are implicit rules that people follow when speaking with another person, but when people have hearing loss, they break these implicit rules without realizing it. It may appear that they’re not paying attention, but the problem may be simply that they can’t hear what’s being said. They miss subtle cues, and that can make conversation difficult.

“…there are implicit rules that people follow when speaking with another person, but when people have hearing loss, they break these implicit rules without realizing it.”

“We want to bring these problems into the light and talk about them, deal with them and come up with solutions that help patients communicate with the people who are most important in their daily lives.”

The Results 

At the end of the six weeks, performance on a word identification task did not change, however, the research subjects indicated subjectively that training reduced their communication difficulties.

“Results suggest that auditory training might improve the ability of older participants with hearing loss to recognize the speech of their spouse and might improve communication interactions between couples,” according to the The Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing. “The results support a task-appropriate processing framework of learning, which assumes that human learning depends on the degree of similarity between training tasks and desired outcomes.”

The researchers have launched a St. Louis-based start-up company to provide the software to patients and hearing health-care professionals, according to Futrity.org.

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Phonak hEARo, Angie is a freelance journalist, copywriter, website designer and social media consultant. (www.aspinallink.co.uk) She lives in Scotland with her husband Richard, and their Westie, Tilly. Angie was diagnosed with Otosclerosis in her right ear at the age of 30. In 2011, she suffered sudden profound hearing loss in her left ear. She now uses a Phonak CROS II with a Phonak Audéo V hearing aid. You can follow Angie’s international discussion group #HearingLossHour on Twitter @hearinglosshour.
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Phonak hEARo, Angie is a freelance journalist, copywriter, website designer and social media consultant. (www.aspinallink.co.uk) She lives in Scotland with her husband Richard, and their Westie, Tilly. Angie was diagnosed with Otosclerosis in her right ear at the age of 30. In 2011, she suffered sudden profound hearing loss in her left ear. She now uses a Phonak CROS II with a Phonak Audéo V hearing aid. You can follow Angie’s international discussion group #HearingLossHour on Twitter @hearinglosshour.