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Deafness, the hidden disability

A “hearing aid in the sky”

 Tom Whipple, Science Editor, The Times writes:

A “hearing aid in the sky” that allows partially deaf people to use mobile phones is to be introduced across the country after a successful trial on the Isle of Man.

Ninety per cent of people who used the service, which tailors the live signal to individual hearing loss, said that it made speech over the phone clearer and helped them to understand conversations, according to the findings of a clinical trial funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Now the company behind it said that plans were under way to offer it to the estimated 11 million Britons who suffer from some form of hearing problem.

When sound is digitally encoded and sent across mobile phone networks, it is compressed and a large part of the audio spectrum is lost. For people with good hearing this is not a problem but for those without, it can cause difficulties, particularly as their own hearing aids, tailored to normal speech, are often unable to help.

Matthew Turner was one of those affected by this and decided to set up a company to solve it. “I have moderate to severe hearing loss,” he said. “Once I started doing corporate finance, the mobile phone became an important part of our lives and I realised that I was really struggling to use the mobile phone. I asked a simple question, ‘Why is there not a voice signal as powerful and clear as a hearing aid?’

His company, Goshawk Communications, created a system that, rather than increasing the volume, intercepts the signal and sends an altered version without any delay to a phone. Users first do a hearing test to identify their level of impairment and whether they struggle with high or low frequencies.

“What people misunderstand is they think if you talk loudly to someone who is deaf, it makes a difference,” Mr Turner said. “It’s not about volume but about intelligibility and clarity. It’s about understanding hearing loss and increasing volume for those frequencies you can’t hear. It only takes the brain to maybe hear an extra one or two words, then it can fill in the rest of the sentence.”

The operator EE is preparing to offer the technology to its mobile customers.

On an additional note, Hearing aids and cataract surgery can slow down the rate of memory loss by up to 75 per cent, according to two studies by Manchester University academics, published in PLOS One and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, that compared mental decline in people in England and America.

Mobile phones get digital hearing aid

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