The study compares the participants subjective opinion of two smartphone apps and a traditional hearing aid, as well as compares objective measures of how well the participant performs in noise when using the smartphone apps and the hearing aids.
Some benefits of using a smartphone application versus a hearing aid, include:
- Less expensive
- Provides the user with immediate assistance
- Ability to adjust volume
- Not subjected to the negative stigma that hearing aids can have
In the study, each participant was between the age of 50 and 90 years old, had a mild-to-moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, and had been wearing hearing aids for less than 3 months.
The participants used the two smartphone apps, EARs and Microphone, on an Apple iPod Touch with hardwired in-ear headphone and inline microphone attached to their shirt. The hearing aids used were economy level behind-the-ear hearing aids with all their advanced features disabled. They wore each of the three devices for 2-3 weeks before subjective and objective measurements were collected.
Results of the speech-in-noise objective testing indicated that the participants did significantly better with all three devices than they did with no device (unaided). However, there was no significant difference in the performance between the hearing aid and both smartphone apps. The researchers note that this may be due to microphone placement of the hearing aid versus the smartphone apps.
When comparing the surveys of the participants, the two smartphone applications provided significant subjective benefit compared to unaided, while the hearing aid did not provide clinically significant subjective benefit.
The satisfaction survey indicated that participants were significantly more satisfied with the hearing aid versus the two smartphone apps and they were overwhelmingly more willing to recommend the hearing aids to family and friends than the two smartphone apps.
When reading this study, there are a few concerns I have:
- The hearing aids advanced features were disabled. Therefore, the study does not take into account the signal processing capabilities that the hearing aids can provide.
- Users were given the capability to make volume and frequency-response adjustments to the smartphone applications when wearing them, while no controls were given to the users with the hearing aids to make changes. The authors even suggest that hearing aid controls-minimally a volume control-can give the wearer the benefit perception that they perceived with the smartphone apps.
This study indicates that while there are measurable improvements in speech-in-noise testing with smartphone application use versus no device use, the subjective satisfaction of users is significantly better with hearing aid use as compared to smartphone use.
The study authors suggest that smartphone application use be used as only a temporary assistance before moving to hearing aids.
Smartphone applications are not a permanent solution for hearing loss management (yet).
With all that said, we've gone ahead and put together a list of the best apps for hearing loss. You can check it out here.