Audiologists in various parts of the world have heard of Brain Hearing due to hearing aid marketing materials and training and continuing education programs.  This concept, now called by various marketing names, is beginning to become part of many hearing aid products…but WHY?  Where does this idea come from?  How long has it been around?  Is it a passing fluke or really the next generation of auditory research that will  facilitate better hearing?

Brief History of the Study of Cognitive Hearing

Most of the audiologists have had an orientation to Hearing Science as part of the study of their discipline. In these courses, students study the usual topics of sound measurement, harmonics, acoustics, psychoacoustics, anatomy and physiology of the auditory mechanism and other concepts fundamental to the hearing field.  Some of these basic hearing science students go on to become hearing scientists with various orientations to their research. While hearing science is essential to understanding hearing, it is the collaboration with other scientists that has brought real success in not only understanding the uniqueness of hearing, but other disciplines as well.  

One of many specialized areas of study, Cognitive Hearing Science (CHS) is sort of hearing science on steroids.  According to Lunner (2017), the CHS aims to find correlations between physiological activities and cognitive processes that are challenged by hearing impairment. Cognitive hearing scientists study and research the physiological-cognitive basis of hearing and hearing impairment. Further, they study how the hearing brain interacts with various types of signal processing within a hearing instrument, in listening environments with varying degrees of challenge. CHS brings together researchers in speech, psychoacoustics, auditory neurophysiology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, computer science, and other areas to discuss the cognitive/perceptual processing of complex acoustic signals like speech, music and natural sounds. This multidisciplinary approach is necessary to breech the artificial barriers between descriptions of peripheral and central mechanisms, between speech sounds and other complex sounds and, moreover, between theoretical interpretation and practical application.

Arlinger and colleagues (2009) indicate that the evolution of interdisciplinary approaches to research of the mind and brain began with the formation of new societies, such as the Society for Neuroscience.   Founded in 1969, the Society for Neuroscience brought together scientists and physicians studying the brain and the nervous system and spawned other societies that have generated cognitive study worldwide. The Cognitive Science Society , founded in 1979, was established to promote research across traditional disciplines, including Artificial Intelligence, Linguistics, Anthropology, Psychology, Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Education, so that interchange between researchers in these disciplines could advance the common goal of understanding the human mind. By 1994, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society was formed to unite brain, mind, and behavior researchers. More recently, in 2001, the Vision Sciences Society was formed to advance interdisciplinary understanding of vision and its relation to cognition, action and the brain. Of special interest to cognitive auditory research the Auditory Cognitive Science Society (now called the Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Society) held its first meeting held its first meeting in 2007 and has recently concluded their 2017 meeting. The concept of brain hearing is the product of these dedicated scientists and their interdisciplinary interaction that is leading to breakthroughs that allow humans can communicate with devices for better hearing.

Types of Cognitive Hearing Research Being Conducted

Researchers are working on many modes to cognitive hearing. One project that offers merit is that of the use of Electroencephalography (EEG) medical measurements and pupillometry.  The use of these and other methods allows for the quantification of the process of attention and listening efforts with the goal of designing hearing devices capable of providing important information about the patient’s level of attention and the listening effort required through direct physiological monitoring. It is thought that these measures could be able to control the characteristics of hearing aid signal processing for better speech understanding.  Lunner (2017) predicts that, “In future, hearing devices will allow the user to selectively amplify the sounds of his/her choice while leaving other background noises unamplified.  This will provide the end-user with a much more personalized hearing compensation experience, which allows for increased sense of control. Furthermore, we can use the enormous amount of outcome-measurements and evaluation data extracted from these devices to advance the field of audiology even more.”  It is thought that this could revolutionize hearing devices and how audiologists measure their success.  In 2017, the newest generation of hearing instruments from the big 6 hearing aid manufacturers have products that use concepts generated from cognitive hearing research. Click here or on the picture for a video of a project at Eriksholm Research Centre.

New Research

Recently, researchers from the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science published a breakthrough article in Journal of Neural Engineering. Dr. Nima Mesgrani and his team demonstrated that a cognitively controlled assistive hearing device can automatically amplify one speaker among many. To do so, their model used a deep neural network that automatically separated each of the speakers from the mixture and compared each speaker with the neural data from the user’s brain. The speaker that best matched the neural data was then amplified to assist the user. Dr. Mesgrani said of their study, “Our system demonstrates a significant improvement in both subjective and objective speech quality measures — almost all of our subjects said they wanted to continue to use it.”  He further stated that “Our novel framework for Auditory Attention Decoding (AAD) bridges the gap between the most recent advancements in speech processing technologies and speech prosthesis research and moves us closer to the development of realistic hearing aid devices that can automatically and dynamically track a user’s direction of attention and amplify an attended speaker.”  

 Brain Hearing is, indeed, marketing. It is unusual in that it is marketing with a sound scientific basis that comes from the development of the cognitive interdisciplinary sciences where researchers from various focused disciplines, including hearing science, around the world communicate and share their findings. The evolution and development of auditory cognitive neuroscience is definitely not a fluke but rather offers great promise to the hearing impaired and their use of the high performance hearing devices of the future.

 

References:

Arlinger, S.,Lunner, T., Lyxell, B., &  Pichora-Fuller, K. (2009).  The emergence of cognitive hearing science. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, (50), 5, 371-384.   Retrieve August 15, 2017. 

Edwards, B., (2015). Cognitive function and patient landscape.  Hearing Review, 22(9):16.  Retrieved August 15, 2017Lunner, T. (2017).  Cognitive Hearing Sciences

Eriksholm Research Centre.  Retrieved August 15, 2017.

O’Sullivan, J., Chen, Z., Herro, J., McKhann, G., Sheth, S., Mehta, A., & Mesgrani, N. (2017).  Neural decoding of attentional selection in muti-speaker environments without access to clean  sources.  Journal of Neural Engineering, Vol 14 (5).  Retrieved August 15, 2017.

 

Videos:

Lunner, T. (2017).  Cognitive Hearing Science.  Eriksholm Research Centre, 

 

Now it is official in Germany, the approximately 14,500 German Hörgeräteakustiker have become designated as Hörakustiker. These long-respected experts in hearing and hearing aids are now officially sanctioned as hearing care professionals by the German Federal Council.

As such, the “equipment” portion of their title is no longer part of the name for their profession. Reason for the adjustment is the dramatically changed profession. On May 12, 2017, the Federal Council, a division of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, decided to adopt the Handicrafts Regulation. The field of activity of the craft sector within the field has changed considerably in recent years where “Not the device is in the foreground, but the complete individual personal service,” explains Marianne Frickel, of the Ministry audit department and President of the Federal Ministry of the Interior – Hearing aids. Now in addition to the section of a device for hearing, German professionals have been directed to provide tips and solutions for prevention and help with tinnitus and hearing loss care.

In a few weeks it will be time for the largest Audiology/Hearing Device meeting worldwide, The International Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians this year to be held in Nuremberg, Germany.  Often referred to worldwide as the “EUHA Meeting”, this will be the 62nd iteration of the event, to be held October 18-20, 2017 ……and the first under the new German designation, Hörakustiker.  Tthe German name of the Congress, Hörgeräteakustiker-Kongress, has been changed to Hörakustiker- Kongress.

There is another novelty: by analogy to the above-mentioned change of name, the new host will be the Europäische Union der Hörakustiker e.V. The event is known for its excellent presenters and lectures and an exhibit hall filled with some 130 exhibitors showcasing international innovations. Almost twenty specialist lectures, held by renowned presenters from the United States, Australia, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany, as well as several tutorials will offer the latest in medical, psychological, and auditory aspects of hearing deficiencies, showcase next-generation hearing systems, and present innovative options for hearing aid professionals when fitting hearing aids. 

The lectures given on Wednesday will, for instance, be dealing with forward looking topics such as over-the-counter hearing aids and their impact on global hearing care, with multilingual speech tests, and with speech intelligibility. The industry update on Thursday will include reports on directional hearing, connectivity, and cognitive ability. Lectures on Friday will center around hyperacusis, tinnitus, and noise reduction. To supplement the lectures, there will be a number of tutorials, e.g. dealing with percentile analysis, cochlear implants, setting and verifying wireless remote microphone systems as well as other topics of interest to Hörakustikers, Audiologists, Otolaryngologists and others.

In 2017, the EUHA Sponsorship Award will be offered for the eighth time. As an association for all persons working in the hearing aid sector for the benefit of people with impaired hearing, The Europäische Union der Hörakustiker presents their sponsorship award for outstanding theses with special relevance to hearing aid acoustics. The organizers would like for all Hörakustikers, Audiologists, Otolaryngologists and others to be on the lookout for young talents that have written a Diploma, Bachelors, Masters thesis with high practical relevance and a forward-looking subject from the areas of audiology, hearing aid fitting, or with a focus on customer orientation. Their talents will be recognized at the 2017 EUHA Sponsorship Award ceremony held on October 18, 2017 as part of the opening ceremony of the 62nd Congress. While these awards must be accepted in person, the prizes monies are awarded as a lump-sum payment. The decision if a thesis submitted within the period stipulated meets the requirements of this award competition, the papers submitted are judged by panel convened by EUHA. Up to three theses may be awarded a prize of 3,000 euros for the first prize, 2,000 euros for the second prize, and 1,000 euros for the third prize.

The Venue: Nuremberg

This year EUHA will be conducted in Nuremberg, Germany; Bavaria’s second largest city.   With a history that dates to the 11th century, Nuremberg is distinguished by medieval architecture such as the fortifications and stone towers of its Altstadt (Old Town).  Nuremberg is most often linked to the 20th century (specifically World War II). It first served as the site of many pre-war Nazi rallies, then was nearly leveled by Allied bombing, then was the site of the famous post-war Nuremberg Trials.
The city has much to offer today’s visitors, including the historic medieval Nuremberg Castle, which took 30 years to rebuild, is a monument to the middle ages and German kings of the Imperial period.  Among other delights of Nuremberg is the world-famous gingerbread at Hauptmarkt. The Hauptmarkt (central square) contains the Schöner Brunnen, the gilded “beautiful fountain” with tiers of figures, and Frauenkirche, a 14th-century Gothic church. The fame and tradition of Nuremberg gingerbread is mainly due to this old city’s favorable position along the ancient trading and spice routes. The flourishing Zeidler guild, which ran a successful bee-keeping and bee-breeding business in the forests around Nuremberg, provided the bakers with direct access to the coveted honey. In those days, honey was the most important sweetener- East Indian colonial sugar was rare and expensive. Hansel and Gretel would have loved this place.

A Greeting from Martin Blecker,  President of the EUHA Congress to the World…..

“The board and management of the EUHA look forward to meeting you in Nürnberg between 18 and 20 October 2017. For centuries, the city has relied on a tradition embracing crafts and up-to-date exhibition facilities, which makes it an ideal convention venue that also has a lot more to offer, such as a tour of the historic center with its medieval buildings. Welcome to the 62nd International Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians – continuing the tradition.”

In German his greeting is:
“Präsidium und Geschäftsführung der EUHA freuen sich, Sie vom 18. bis 20. Oktober 2017 in Nürnberg begrüßen zu dürfen! Die Stadt verbindet seit Jahrhunderten Handwerkstradition mit modernsten Ausstellungsflächen und ist damit ein idealer Kongressort, der auch zu einem Besuch der mittelalterlichen Altstadt einlädt. Herzlich willkommen zum 62. Internationalen Hörakustiker-Kongress – neu im Namen, bewährt in der Tradition.”

For a look at the program for this year’s meeting by clicking on the program to the right.