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“Cocktail Party” Hearing Issues and How New Hearing Aids are Trying to Solve Them

Trouble distinguishing speech in a crowded room is one of the classic early signs of hearing loss. And, believe it or not, even with all the recent advancements in technology, helping those with hearing loss distinguish speech in a crowded room is still a challenge. Dubbed as the “cocktail party problem” (based on one of the classic settings where it usually occurs) this is one of the next frontiers hearing aid manufacturers are working on.

Recently, scientists may have discovered some technology that can help with the cocktail party problem. Using a new technology called “auditory attention decoding” (AAD), which monitors both the listener’s brainwaves and the sound around him or her, the device then triangulates which voice or sound in the room the person is focused on and gives extra amplification to it.

Apparently, the device is able to take all the different audio sources and separate them into different streams. Then, it looks at the person’s brainwaves, which would be trying to decode one particular audio signal. When the device finds a match between an audio signal and what the person is actively trying to listen for, it amplifies that signal.

Cocktail party problem aside, this seems like a pretty important achievement in hearing technology in general, in that it’s able to take direct input from the user about what features of the environment to amplify. It’s amazing to think that a user could be in a room with a hundred different people, but would be able to select exactly which of these people he or she wants to amplify.

Unfortunately, this technology will not be hitting store shelves anytime soon. The study involved technology that is surgically implanted and is not portable. Practical application of these findings will be at least five-to-10 years off. And yet, that’s not such a long time either, for truly groundbreaking improvement in hearing science.

Also, remember that hearing aids are just the device. Proper fitting, counseling on realistic expectations, and understanding active and assertive listening strategies help in the success of hearing better. And that’s what we at Chicago Hearing Services do, to ensure the best possible outcome for each one of our hearing patients. Reach out to us to schedule your hearing appointment!

About Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.