Improving the lives of people with hearing loss or tinnitus
New Hearing Research Fellowships, funded by the Medical Research Foundation, are aiming to improve the lives of people suffering from hearing loss or tinnitus.
The three-year fellowships, based at the University of Nottingham’s Hearing Sciences Department, have been awarded to two exceptional mid-career researchers - Dr Timothy Beechey, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Minnesota, and Dr Jack Holman, a research fellow at the University of Nottingham.
Nine million people in the UK have significant hearing loss (five million with tinnitus), yet there is a culture of poor take-up of hearing aids, as well as a lack of awareness around - and access to - healthcare services. Living with hearing problems goes beyond medical treatment and addresses how people manage their hearing around their lives.
These fellowships will improve the prediction of individual outcomes for people suffering from hearing loss or tinnitus, and in particular, they will support the development of more tailored solutions that are sensitive to differences between people.
This new research has been made possible by gifts in Wills and donations to the former Medical Research Council (MRC) Institute of Hearing Research, including the generous support of Esme Gray, in memory of her son Stuart Gray. Stuart was working at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research in 1977 when he was tragically killed in a road accident nearby. Esme donated part of her estate to support hearing research in Stuart’s memory.
Predicting hearing rehab outcomes
Spoken conversation is crucial for completing many everyday tasks. A reduced ability to communicate through spoken language is, therefore, among the most debilitating consequences of hearing impairment. While predicting the effects of hearing impairment on communication is central to hearing science and clinical audiology, predictions in these fields are often made using simple speech tests which are not representative of everyday life, due to the technical challenges of measuring interactive conversation in controlled conditions. As a result, predictions made using simple speech tests may not relate to the lived experience of people with hearing impairment.
Dr Timothy Beechey’s research will develop methods to make more accurate predictions of the impacts of hearing impairment on communication, without the need for highly complex testing procedures. His fellowship will first investigate how certain behaviours, such as asking speakers to repeat themselves or moving closer to a speaker, impact on communication ability.
The communication techniques that are found to be most effective will be incorporated into a simpler test of speech understanding, to produce a measure which is representative of the demands of interactive communication, while retaining many of the conveniences of standard speech tests. Dr Beechey hopes to develop a simple test which has the potential to improve the efficiency of hearing research, and the effectiveness of clinical hearing rehabilitation.
Improving hearing loss assessments
Hearing loss can have a significant impact on people’s social interactions and relationships in daily life. Dr Jack Holman will improve our understanding of, and ability to measure, individual differences in something called ‘socioemotional well-being’ (SEWB).
SEWB is an evaluation of social interactions and relationships in daily life. It is thought that the social and emotional consequences of hearing loss (and hearing-aid treatment) may play out differently for different people, depending on their circumstances, personality, and daily activities.
The aim of Dr Holman’s research is to improve our assessment of people’s individual needs, when it comes to hearing loss. He will measure different components of SEWB in people with and without hearing loss, and following the fitting of hearing aids. This will help to identify key individual differences in SEWB and the impact of hearing-aids.
Dr Holman will then establish a reliable way of measuring the key aspects of SEWB for people with hearing loss, either using existing measures or by creating a new one. Finally, he will investigate whether treatments or therapies could improve the social and emotional wellbeing of those who need it.
This project is the first step in developing better interventions to increase the happiness and comfort of each person with hearing loss, based on their individual needs.
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