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Hearing loss and Hearing-Aid signal processing

For the Clarity Workshop in 2021, Karolina Smeds gave a talk on hearing loss and hearing-aid signal processing. This talk and the rest of the workshop are freely available online.


Hearing loss leads to several unwanted effects. Loss of audibility for soft sounds is one effect, but also when amplification is used to create audibility for soft sounds, many suprathreshold deficits remain. The most common type of hearing loss is a cochlear hearing loss, where haircells or nerve synapses in the cochlea are damaged. Ageing and noise exposure are the most common causes of cochlear hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is associated with atypical loudness perception and difficulties in noisy situations. Background noise masks for instance speech to a higher degree than for a person with healthy hair cells. This explains why listening to speech in noisy backgrounds is such an important topic to work on. A brief introduction to signal processing in hearing aids will be presented. With the use of frequency-specific amplification and compression (automatic gain control, AGC), hearing aids are usually doing a good job in compensating for reduced audibility and for atypical suprathreshold loudness perception. However, it is more difficult to compensate for the increased masking effect. Some examples of strategies will be presented. Finally, natural conversations in noise will be discussed. The balance between being able to have a conversation with a specific communication partner in a group of people and being able to switch attention if someone else starts to talk will be touched upon.