Impact of Hearing Aid Technology on Outcomes in Daily Life III: Localization

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Abstract

Objective:

Compared to basic-feature hearing aids, premium-feature hearing aids have more advanced technologies and sophisticated features. The objective of this study was to explore the difference between premium-feature and basic-feature hearing aids in horizontal sound localization in both laboratory and daily life environments. We hypothesized that premium-feature hearing aids would yield better localization performance than basic-feature hearing aids.

Design:

Exemplars of premium-feature and basic-feature hearing aids from two major manufacturers were evaluated. Forty-five older adults (mean age 70.3 years) with essentially symmetrical mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss were bilaterally fitted with each of the four pairs of hearing aids. Each pair of hearing aids was worn during a 4-week field trial and then evaluated using laboratory localization tests and a standardized questionnaire. Laboratory localization tests were conducted in a sound-treated room with a 360°, 24-loudspeaker array. Test stimuli were high frequency and low frequency filtered short sentences. The localization test in quiet was designed to assess the accuracy of front/back localization, while the localization test in noise was designed to assess the accuracy of locating sound sources throughout a 360° azimuth in the horizontal plane.

Results:

Laboratory data showed that unaided localization was not significantly different from aided localization when all hearing aids were combined. Questionnaire data showed that aided localization was significantly better than unaided localization in everyday situations. Regarding the difference between premium-feature and basic-feature hearing aids, laboratory data showed that, overall, the premium-feature hearing aids yielded more accurate localization than the basic-feature hearing aids when high-frequency stimuli were used, and the listening environment was quiet. Otherwise, the premium-feature and basic-feature hearing aids yielded essentially the same performance in other laboratory tests and in daily life. The findings were consistent for both manufacturers.

Conclusions:

Laboratory tests for two of six major manufacturers showed that premium-feature hearing aids yielded better localization performance than basic-feature hearing aids in one out of four laboratory conditions. There was no difference between the two feature levels in self-reported everyday localization. Effectiveness research with different hearing aid technologies is necessary, and more research with other manufacturers’ products is needed. Furthermore, these results confirm previous observations that research findings in laboratory conditions might not translate to everyday life.

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