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Speech in Noise Hearing Loss

people having brunch

While the terms “hearing” and “listening” are often used interchangeably, they hold different meanings. Hearing refers to the mere perception or recognition of speech sounds, whereas listening denotes the comprehension or interpretation of these sounds.

The most common hearing test involves presenting pure tones at various pitches and volumes. The patient is instructed to signal when they can hear the sound, assessing their ability to perceive sound across different pitches. However, this type of evaluation doesn’t measure one’s ability to understand speech in noisy settings like parties or restaurants. To comprehend what’s being said, the main speech sounds must be louder than any background noise, necessitating a test for measuring the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).

Most people can clearly discern a primary speaker if they’re slightly louder than secondary speakers. Hence, listeners often struggle to “hear” and “understand” in social gatherings like cocktail parties, where secondary speakers may match or exceed the volume of the primary speaker.

As we age, our ability to hear higher speech frequencies usually diminishes. It’s not enough to just perceive the sounds; we must also interpret them. Even with amplified sounds, our auditory system and brain still need to process them. To correctly comprehend the sounds, they must be louder than any background noise. As our hearing loss progresses, our SNR needs to increase correspondingly.

Simple amplification devices usually only boost volume without improving the SNR. Modern hearing aids, however, possess superior processing capabilities, delivering an improved SNR. But if the primary speech and background sounds are louder, clarity remains elusive even with a better SNR. This can be more frustrating than not hearing at all, as the signal is loud but unclear.

Hearing aid technology has made significant strides, providing users with enhanced volume and SNR. These advancements include directional and beam-forming microphones, MSAT, T-coils, and Bluetooth streaming for music and phones, offering a multitude of benefits. FM and digital remote microphones (DRM), which can transmit signals from a speaker up to 40 feet away, are particularly helpful for those needing extra hearing support, providing a much clearer and more enjoyable SNR.

Thanks to advancements in hearing aid technology, our ability to comprehend speech in noise and enhance our listening skills has dramatically improved. If you’re contemplating hearing aid amplification, book an appointment so we can test your speech-in-noise capability both unaided and with hearing aids. Most people will be pleasantly surprised by the improvement today’s technology can deliver.