Starkey Research Team Examines Cognitive Effort and Listening

Starkey Hearing Technologies is a leader in research and product development. Our research, which focuses on real world patient outcomes, is conducted at our Eden Prairie campus and also at the Starkey Hearing Research Center (SHRC) one block away from the campus the University of California Berkeley campus.

Members of the research team are trained in an array of educational backgrounds including engineering, psychology, audiology, neurophysiology and psychoacoustics. This interdisciplinary collaboration has resulted in exciting advancements in hearing aid technology.

The Starkey Hearing Technologies research team took a closer look at how hearing loss and hearing aids affect cognition. The findings were published in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research. For this project, our researchers collaborated with a team from the University of California at Berkley to develop an effective way to measure listening effort. That method was used to better understand how technology in hearing aids can impact listening effort and cognitive function.

It is well understood that individuals with untreated hearing loss (who do not wear hearing aids) experience difficulty understanding speech in the presence of background noise. If the auditory input is distorted due to hearing loss, the brain must work harder to understand it, leaving the listener more fatigued after extended exposure to challenging listening environments.

Recent research suggests that the presence of hearing loss can adversely affect the processing resources available for comprehension and memory. A relationship between uncorrected binaural hearing loss and cognition was identified. The results also demonstrate how human cognition relies heavily on the complexities of the auditory system to effectively integrate incoming auditory information from the world around us.

To follow up on these findings, the Starkey Hearing Technologies and UC Berkeley research teams began to explore effective ways for individuals with hearing loss to combat increased listening effort and reduced cognitive function in challenging listening environments. Researchers found that restoring binaural perception through the use of prescriptively fit hearing aids measurably improved cognitive function and reduced listening effort. Optimizing binaural hearing seems to play an important part in increasing comprehension and reducing listening effort.

This is important news for those wearing or considering hearing aids! The findings indicate that wearing hearing aids can have an immediate and positive impact on cognitive function and reduce listening effort.

These breakthroughs led to the development of Voice iQ™, a feature that is available throughout Starkey Hearing Technologies’ current product line. Voice iQ is a two-part adaptive algorithm that helps listeners hear more comfortably in noisy environments by applying variable noise reduction to effectively preserve speech while increasing ease of listening.

We will continue to highlight advancements in research and technology as part of our Technology Corner. Stay up to date on our research projects by following our blog.

By Beth McCormick, Au.D.