News

Following are a selection of interesting news items from our field. This section will be updated on a continuous basis so check back often in between issues, to see what is new.

Toddlers “Surprisingly Sophisticated” At Understanding Unfamiliar Accents

Source: University of Toronto

By two years of age, children are remarkably good at comprehending speakers who talk with accents the toddlers have never heard before, a study has shown. Even more striking, say researchers, children as young as 15 months who have difficulty comprehending accents they've never heard before can quickly learn to understand accented speech after hearing the speaker for a short time.

A new University of Toronto study has found that by two years of age, children are remarkably good at comprehending speakers who talk with accents the toddlers have never heard before.

Even more striking, say researchers, children as young as 15 months who have difficulty comprehending accents they've never heard before can quickly learn to understand accented speech after hearing the speaker for a short time.

"Fifteen-month-olds typically say relatively few words, yet they can learn to understand someone with a completely unfamiliar accent," says Elizabeth K. Johnson, associate professor with the University of Toronto's Psychology department. "This shows that infants' language comprehension abilities are surprisingly sophisticated."

The researchers wanted to study if and how young children in the early stages of learning their first language come to understand words spoken in different regional variants of their native language. This is the first study showing rapid adaptation to accents at such a young age and the findings speak to the great developmental steps children take with regards to language comprehension.

"Adults with many years of language experience typically get better at understanding unfamiliar accents over time," says Marieke van Heugten, former University of Toronto graduate student and now postdoctoral researcher at the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique in Paris, France. "These studies show that infants, who are still in the process of figuring out their native language, possess similar abilities from very early on."

The findings are based on two studies by the researchers that have been recently published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and in Language Learning and Development.

Hearing Quality Restored with Bionic Ear Technology Used for Gene Therapy: Re-growing Auditory Nerves

Source: EurekAlert!

Researchers have for the first time used electrical pulses delivered from a cochlear implant to deliver gene therapy, thereby successfully regrowing auditory nerves. The research also heralds a possible new way of treating a range of neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease, and psychiatric conditions such as depression through this novel way of delivering gene therapy.

Experimental Cochlear Implant Treatment Could Improve Hearing

Source: LiveScience

People who are deaf might be able to regain most of their hearing one day, thanks to a new treatment that uses a cochlear implant to deliver genetic instructions to fix their auditory nerves, new research suggests.

In experiments on deaf guinea pigs, researchers found that the new technique, which uses cochlear implants to deliver DNA directly to the nerves, restored the animals' hearing to a near-normal level, according to the report, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Online Database Highlights Risks to Hearing from Australia’s Noisy Nightlife

Source: Bayside Audiology & Hearing Aid Services

Australia’s noisy nightlife has got Australian researchers worried about the potential damage loud music is doing to the hearing of young people.

To get a better feel for how loud the music actually gets in some venues, researchers from the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) have been going out and recording some of Australia’s noisier recreational environments.

The results of their efforts have been uploaded to a new website known as the NOISE Database. On the new website, the information can be shared with other researchers, policy makers and other people interested in knowing more about the hearing health risks of recreational noise.

Stop Shouting at Me: Why Clear Speech Can Sound Angry

Source: Newswise

When loved ones lose their hearing, audiologists often counsel spouses and family members to speak clearly so they are better understood. But hearing loss professionals say that this well-meaning advice can backfire: clear speech can make you sound angry. A new study supports the idea that clear speech can carry negative overtones even when the phrase itself is emotionally neutral.

A report card issued today by the Canadian Infant Hearing Task Force highlights the need for improved programs across the country – March 2014

The Canadian Academy of Audiology is pleased to announce the release of the national report card on the status of infant hearing services in Canada. This document was prepared by the Canadian Infant Hearing Task Force, chaired by Dr. Steve Aiken, Past-President of CAA. The Task Force is jointly sponsored by CAA and SAC, and this report card has been endorsed by the Canadian Pediatric Society, VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children, and the Elks and Royal Purple.

We thank the members of the Task Force and join with them in calling for Canada’s federal and provincial/territorial governments to commit to excellence in early hearing detection and intervention. It’s time for action!

Infant Hearing Screening release from CAA

Audiologists are keenly aware of the consequences of undetected permanent childhood hearing and the benefits associated with early detection and intervention. Unfortunately, many parts of Canada still do not have comprehensive universal early hearing programs. This has to change.

In 2013, CAA brought together a group of audiologists, pediatricians, otolaryngologists and scientists from across the country to form the Canadian Infant Hearing Task Force (CIHTF) – a team focused on promoting and supporting the development and implementation of early hearing programs nationwide--now jointly sponsored by CAA and SAC.

As a first step, the CIHTF produced a "Report Card on Early Hearing Detection and Intervention" which has been endorsed by the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Elks and Royal Purple of Canada, and VOICE For Hearing Impaired Children. The goal of this report card is to highlight the large gaps in services across the country – gaps that exist in spite of the efforts of many hard-working individuals and smaller localized/hospital-based programs. As the report card concludes, "All children in Canada deserve access to proper hearing screening and timely intervention to reach their full potential. It's time for action from Canada's federal and provincial/territorial governments to commit to excellence in early hearing detection and intervention."

Two CAA Members Honoured at AAA Conference

Two members of the CAA were honoured at the American Academy of Audiology conference. Kathy Pichora-Fuller received the AAA International Award and Bill Cole received the Samuel F. Lybarger Award for Achievements in Industry.

Kathy Pichora-Fuller

Kathy Pichora-Fuller

Bill Cole

Bill Cole

To highlight and illustrate the outstanding accomplishments of these two deserving honourees we’ve received permission to reprint the nomination letters that were submitted on their behalf as well as Bill Cole’s acceptance letter.

American Academy of Audiology International Award Nomination Letter

To Linda Hood, PhD, Chair
Academy Honors Committee
American Academy of Audiology

Dear Linda,

It is with great pleasure that I write to nominate M. Kathleen Pichora-Fuller for the Academy’s 2014 International Award. As you know, this award seeks to “…to honor and recognize achievements of international significance in audiology by an audiologist…” Kathy is unquestionably deserving of this honor and recognition. After review of this nominating letter, as well as supporting letters from a current collaborator (Sherri Smith), two other prior Jerger Career Award recipients (Sandy Gordon-Salant and Judy Dubno), and last year’s International Award recipient (Louise Hickson), I hope the Honors Committee agrees.

Given that Kathy is an outstanding scholar in audiology who is a Canadian, currently living and working primarily in Canada, one might think that this alone qualifies her for this award. Although there is no question that Kathy has a lasting and profound impact on audiology in Canada, Kathy’s scholarly work has had a truly international impact not confined to Canada’s borders.

Kathy’s research is characterized by a continual career-long effort to bridge the gap between the clinic and the research lab. She was pioneering in “translational research” long before there was a label for such efforts. Throughout her career of 30+ years, Kathy has been keenly interested in aural rehabilitation, with a special focus the past couple of decades on rehabilitation in older adults. Her research has emphasized the identification of the factors that underlie the speech-communication problems of older adults as well as the design and evaluation of interventions to alleviate those problems.

Kathy has done pioneering research to establish the importance of cognitive contributors to the successful rehabilitation of older adults with hearing loss. Having received a clinical degree in audiology in 1980 and then practicing full-time as a clinical audiologist for six years, Kathy’s research and scholarly writing has always been grounded in the eventual clinical application of her work. This clinical expertise and background, combined with a PhD in psychology and a faculty position in the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto, have resulted in a unique blend of audiology and psychology in her work. She was one of the first scholars to formally recognize that attaining an understanding of the auditory-processing and speech-communication difficulties of older adults required insights from both a bottom-up sensory processing perspective and a top-down auditory- and cognitive-processing perspective. She also made cognitive psychologists more aware of the critical importance of sensory deficits, such as hearing loss, when measuring cognition, whether assessed in the lab or in the clinic. More importantly, she was uniquely qualified to work in both of these research worlds and has striven to bridge the gap between them. Abundant evidence for these research themes can be found among her 76 research publications appearing in refereed journals since 1983, as well as many other scholarly writings (38 articles in non-refereed journals and 14 book chapters).

Aside from the broad impact of her research, additional direct evidence in support of Kathy’s significant international influence can be found in the 124 scholarly presentations at international meetings and conferences since 1984, with about half of these being invited presentations (often keynote addresses).

From 1997-2003, Kathy served on the Executive Committee of the International Collegium in Rehabilitative Audiology (ICRA). Beginning in 2004, Kathy has served as Editor-at-Large for the International Journal of Audiology. Since the conference’s inception in 2005, Kathy has served on the Advisory Committee of the International and Interdisciplinary Research Conference on Aging and Speech Communication. Most recently, Kathy received a secondary faculty appointment in the Cognitive Hearing Science Program at Linkoping University in Sweden.

The foregoing international accomplishments and activities are all the more impressive in the context of Kathy’s continued service to, and leadership of, Canadian audiology organizations as well. For example, from 1985-86, Kathy served as the President of the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. In the Canadian Academy of Audiology, Kathy has served as the director on the Board of Directors from 2002-04 and in 2007 was presented with the President’s Award of the CAA. Further, on two occasions she has served as the director on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Acoustical Association (1998-2002, 2012-present).

To top it all off, Kathy advocates tirelessly for audiology throughout her various international activities and collaborations. She gives generously of her time to the discipline and the profession and does so without consideration of geographical boundaries. In summary, I would be hard pressed to find another colleague who so genuinely personifies the spirit of the Academy’s International Award.

Sincerely,

Larry E. Humes, PhD
Distinguished Professor and Chair
Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences
Indiana University

Kathy Pichora-Fuller’s Acceptance Speech from the AAA Conference

As you have just been told, I am an audiologist and psychologist. But I started out studying literature, so I'm going to borrow a theme from Shakespeare. If “all the world's a stage,” then this International (World) Award must be a tribute to the drama of audiology that I have played a role in.

Acts in this play have included doing research to learn about auditory aging, about auditory-cognitive interactions during speech understanding, about evidence-based practice, about social psychological factors in audiologic rehabilitation and generally trying to put hearing into the story of health care for older adults.

It has been a great pleasure to work with the excellent colleagues I have met as the drama has unfolded over the years. Many of them supported my nomination and I thank them for that, but also for playing roles in our shared drama.

As you have seen, the AAA organizers asked the people receiving awards to provide some information that is now on display on banners outside in the conference hall. One of the questions was "what is your favourite book". I chose Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. As you may know, Robertson Davies is a Canadian author who was the writer in residence at the University of Toronto for many years. Fifth Business is the first book in a trilogy he wrote. So what is fifth business? It is the character in the play who makes things happen but who is not the protagonist. The role of fifth business appeals to me and it seems to work because our shared drama is bigger than us individual players in audiology and across disciplines, but it is fun to make things happen when everyone works together.

Some other players in the drama have been my husband, Keith, and my son, Robert, who are here tonight. When I was an audiology student, Don Greenwood (you know his graphs about critical bands from your hearing science textbooks) was one of my professors. When I first introduced Keith to him and told him we were engaged, Don said "Oh, an engineer, well, electrical I hope so that you can be of some use to your wife!" In fact, Keith started out in electrical engineering but changed to industrial engineering and he specialized in information systems. So I have had better IT support at home than at the university. Robert is also an engineer now and he too helps when I have technical issues. But in addition to technical support, they have been a tremendous source of love and support in many other ways too.

I look forward to the acts of the play yet to come.

Thank you.

American Academy of Audiology Samuel F. Lybarger Award Nomination Letter

To Linda Hood, PhD
Chair of the AAA Honors Committee:

Dear Linda,

As the first recipient of the Samual F. Lybarger award, I am pleased to nominate Bill Cole for this year’s Samuel F. Lybarger Award for Achievements in Industry.

I have known and admired Bill for nearly 40 years, during which time he made major contributions to those needing hearing aids such as:

  • The first hearing aid integrated circuit with AGC (Westinghose)
  • The first high-performance Class B integrated circuits for hearing aids, reducing battery drain and allowing better undistorted output (Westinghouse)
  • Most of the important second-generation integrated circuits for hearing aids. Literally millions of people have benefited from those designs (LTI/Gennum)
  • The first headworn programmable hearing aid design (Dahlberg)
  • The first head-worn cochlear implant stimulator (House Ear)
  • The first Adaptive-Compression integrated circuit cleaning up the “pumping” sound that is even today found in some digital hearing aids (Telex)
  • He was an important member of the design team that created the K-AMP integrated circuit chip (Etymotic Research)
  • Each of Bill’s U.S. patents represents an important breakthrough

In 1983 he formed his own company, Etymonic Design and quickly turned to the problems of the audiologist fitting hearing aids. Equally important products came after that such as:

  • A stand-alone portable real-ear hearing aid analyzer (Audioscan RM500)
  • The first “speech map” measurements of hearing aids to uncover their actual gain and signal processing for real speech. (The typical digital signal processor will respond to tones by considering them noise and attempting to destroy them.)
  • The first real-time directional test to uncover the true performance of “adaptive directionality” hearing aids, so that the clinician no longer had to depend on advertising. As a result, many clinicians found that their directional hearing aids “pointed backwards” or had no useful effect in many real-life situations.
  • Realistic tests for noise-reduction and feedback suppression options provided objective measures of their actual effectiveness
  • Accurate real-ear simulation for use in pediatric fittings. To explain, a single RECD measurement on a squirming child was used to provide subsequent highly accurate prediction of the real-ear response and eardrum pressure that would be produced by a given hearing aid, based solely on coupler measurements of that aid as it was adjusted.

During much of his life, Bill has also been an active member of standards committees. Bill currently chairs the ANSI committee on Real-Ear Measurement Standards and is a technical expert on the international IEC working groups on hearing aid and audiometer standards. The difficulty with standards committees often comes when wildly different interests come to the table. Having been an active antagonist at standards meeting for nearly 50 years, I have watch four people with an extraordinary ability to bring members to an agreement: Samual Lybarger, Laura Ann Wilber, Dave Preves, and Bill Cole. Each had absolute integrity, was a gentleperson, and was respected by every committee member. The value to our profession of those abilities cannot be overstated.

Respectfully Yours,

Mead C. Killion, PhD, ScD(hon)
Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Etymotic Research, Inc.

Bill Cole’s Acceptance Speech for the Samuel F. Lybarger Award

First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Hood and the academy for this honor. Sam Lybarger was one of my heroes – a man of great technical ability, integrity and humility – and to receive an award in honor of his memory is overwhelming.

I would also like to thank my nominator, Dr. Mead Killion – better known in this room as Gail Gudmundsen’s husband – and all those who said nice things about me in support of my nomination.

Finally, I would like to say that I would not be standing here without the hard work and contributions of Jim and Joanne Jonkman, my friends and business partners of the past 30 years, and of our talented and dedicated employees – and without the support and friendship of so many colleagues in the field.

I was invited to share with you some of my memories of the 43 years that I have spent in this industry – having fun and pretending that it was work.

When I first joined Westinghouse in 1970, the most complex integrated circuit used in hearing aids was an amplifier for high power hearing aids that contained about 12 components. My first job was to design a hearing aid integrated circuit that had compression – and the result was an integrated circuit containing about 50 components. To put that in perspective, a modern hearing aid integrated circuit contains millions of components. But that 50 component circuit was designed using these tools:

  1. A slide rule (exhibit A). Not only did we not have computers – we did not even have electronic calculators. At some point our department head acquired an electronic calculator the size of a piece of carry-on luggage that could actually calculate logarithms – but only he was allowed to touch it.
  2. A pencil (exhibit B) – the real kind that you had to sharpen
  3. A napkin from the local restaurant (exhibit C). It was a basic engineering rule that circuits had to be designed on the back of a napkin – I never quite understood why it had to be on the back but that was the rule. Sometimes for really complex circuits we would use a placemat.

There has been tremendous progress in hearing aid technology since those days long ago. We have truly awesome tools at our disposal. But at the end of the day, this field is about people. Looking back on my career, it is the people moments I remember most fondly.

One such people moment occurred at the Chateau Le Moyen hotel during one of the Kresge courses in New Orleans. During a debate around the Christmas tree in the lobby, Mead Killion suggested that we needed to do some real-ear measurements to prove a point. Since I just happened to have a portable real-ear measurement system in my room, it was only a matter of minutes before we were making measurements beside the Christmas tree – and making calculations on the back of a bar napkin.

I recall a conference at the Empress Hotel in Victoria BC when the head of the provincial audiology program took me to see their new facilities. In order not to lose his parking space at the hotel, he had me move a “Buses only” sign into the space when he pulled out. When we came back – you guessed it – there was a big tour bus jammed into his parking space.

My favourite moment occurred again at the Chateau Le Moyen during a Kresge course in a reception room all decorated for Christmas. Mead Killion and Chuck Berlin had arranged for a couple of sidemen to join them to provide entertainment for the participants. They were doing requests and a very frail elderly participant had requested “It’s a Wonderful World.” As the music started, he walked over to the bass player – who was a huge man – linked arms and they sang a most beautiful duet.

It is indeed a wonderful world.

Thank you.

A summary of Viji Easwar’s Thesis Work Presented at American Academy of Audiology 2014

Viji Easwar

Viji Easwar

Objective outcome measures using auditory evoked potentials have the potential to improve evaluation of hearing aid fittings in young infants. Several auditory evoked potential methods have been proposed for use as an aided outcome measure. However, there have been concerns about accurate representation of hearing aid function in certain stimulus protocols. As part of Viji Easwar’s PhD thesis, a test paradigm based on speech-evoked Envelope Following Responses (EFRs) was developed. This paradigm uses a naturally spoken stimulus that resembles running speech in temporal characteristics. The stimulus is the token /susa∫i/, spoken by a Canadian male talker. This token was modified to elicit responses from low, mid and high frequency regions of speech.

The protocol is currently being evaluated in adults with normal hearing, and in adults with hearing loss who wear hearing aids. The study is investigating the sensitivity of the proposed test paradigm to changes in stimulus level, stimulus bandwidth and use of amplification. Additionally, the study is examining the relationship between EFRs and behavioral tests such as speech discrimination and sound quality rating in multiple bandwidth conditions.

Results so far illustrate sensitivity of the protocol to stimulus level, bandwidth and amplification in terms of response amplitude and/or the number of responses detected. Response amplitude and the number of responses detected increase with improved audibility due to stimulus level and use of a hearing aid. As well, bandwidth-related changes in EFR responses correlate with bandwidth-related changes in psychophysical measures of hearing aid outcome like speech discrimination and sound quality rating. In summary, our validation studies in adults suggest that the procedure may be useful as an objective outcome measure of hearing aid fittings.

This thesis work is ongoing at the National Centre for Audiology in Western University under the supervision of Dr. Susan Scollie (Child Amplification Laboratory) and Dr. David Purcell (Speech, Auditory Feedback and Evoked Responses lab). Dr. Steve Aiken from Dalhousie University also collaborates in this project. Viji is an audiologist by training and prior to her PhD, she worked in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, Scotland as a pediatric audiologist. Viji completed her clinical training in the University of Southampton, England (MSc) and in the University of Mysore, India (BSc).

School Hearing Tests Do Not Detect Noise Exposure Hearing Loss

Source: The Pennsylvania State University

School hearing tests cannot effectively detect adolescent high-frequency hearing loss, which is typically caused by loud noise exposure, according to researchers. School screenings primarily focus on low-frequency hearing loss. This is logical for young children, who are more likely to develop low-frequency hearing loss due to fluid in the ear after a bad cold or an ear infection. Adolescents, however, are more susceptible to high-frequency hearing loss, usually brought on by exposure to loud noises, but the same tests are used on adolescents and young children.