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A link to the academic world

Sonova Gurjit Singh Interview

Sonova has a very strong network of collaborations with various leading universities around the world. A prime example of a successful collaboration is the research done by Sonova senior research audiologist Gurjit Singh at the University of Toronto. His main research topics deal with the significance of social support to people with hearing loss and how to address problems of bridging long distances for consultations. 

Nine a.m. in Toronto. Gurjit Singh, Senior Research Audiologist at Sonova in Canada, leans back in his swivel chair and takes an appreciative sip of his coffee to go. Informally dressed, Gurjit is an outgoing and sociable man, and his skillfully entertaining presentation draws us in immediately. Gurjit heads the pioneering research collaboration at Sonova.

The desk on which he places his paper cup, however, is located in an office at the University of Toronto, one of the leading research institutions in the field of audiology worldwide. "I'm one of Sonova's links to the academic world," says Gurjit. "And an important sensor for spotting new trends and developments."

Gurjit was previously a post-doctoral research fellow at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, with degrees in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Toronto, Audiology from the University of Western Ontario, and Social Psychology from the University of Waterloo. Through his research he has forged a connection between the university and clinical institutions such as the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute for Sonova. This is an ideal configuration: a direct link to what is happening in research is crucial in order for Sonova to initiate and expedite collaborative projects. "Collaborative partnerships are part of our entrepreneurial culture," Gurjit explains. Initially, he worked as a postgraduate on a research project sponsored by Sonova in Canada. Following its successful conclusion, he joined 2010 the science and technology department of the Sonova Group. Together with his colleagues he is driving research and innovation in the areas of cognitive and ecological audiology as well as fitting methods of hearing aids.

Collaborative partnerships are part of our entrepreneurial culture.

When asked about his current research project at this interface between theory and practice, Gurjit Singh starts by telling us about his wife. "I am a lucky man. My spouse is a very attentive person, and when something is wrong with my health,  it’s not me but rather my wife who makes the suggestion to visit the doctor. For me, that was the ‘a-ha’ that convinced me that this kind of support also has a critical role in audiology.”

Among experts, this phenomenon is known as social support. The term refers to the friends and family in one's environment who have that individual’s interests at heart. Studies in various medical disciplines have long established that social support not only affects personal happiness, but also plays a crucial role in health matters as well. "Yet, in audiology our understanding of how this works is still rudimentary," Gurjit tells us.

And so he asked himself: Why do some individuals manage to cope with hearing aids much better than others? What can be done to improve overall satisfaction with hearing aids? Until now, research in audiology had been mainly focused on technological aspects, i.e. on the devices themselves. "However hearing loss is almost always also a social phenomenon," says Gurjit. People who suffer loss of hearing can easily become isolated from their environment. Not being able to follow conversations at meals, or simply avoiding social activities with friends can quickly take its toll. Globally there are also other research projects that address this issue. "Yet when it comes to doing something about it and proactively looking for solutions, Sonova is in a league of its own." 

When it comes to doing something about it and proactively looking for solutions, Sonova is in a league of its own.

For Gurjit, all the more reason to list social support among his research topics. His research is based on the premise that hearing and hearing loss are always linked with communication, that interaction with other people is therefore vital.  In his opinion, hearing loss never affects just one person. "At some point, the effects of hearing loss expand beyond the individual, and secondary burden occurs, when the spouse or relative are affected.” Gurjit is interested in both the social consequences of hearing loss as well as protective buffers offered by social support.

Today, he is able to present the first results of a study that took place in collaboration with Professor Kathy Pichora-Fuller at the University of Toronto. They found that attentiveness, love, and care appear to be important factors to better hearing and greater satisfaction with a hearing aid.

Further studies are expected to follow soon and the conclusions will be made available in the form of recommendations and guidelines to audiologists and hearing care professionals. These will include advice on questions such as: At which stage of the consultation and fitting of hearing aids should family be involved? And, in what form?

Always busy, Gurjit is also involved in number of other important research areas such as telemedicine. On Sonova's behalf he is working on another innovation: facilitating the programming of hearing aids over the Internet, thereby enabling people who live in remote areas to benefit from the advantages hearing aids can provide.

Gurjit is also involved in number of other important research areas such as telemedicine

Until today, clients who have a problem with their hearing aid need to attend a hearing care clinic in person.  In the future, Gurjit hopes that the Internet will assume a major role: for example, clients could video-call for a consultation on Skype to explain their problems and ask questions.  In turn, their audiologist would counsel them via that same medium. Not only would these consultations be extremely practical – they also save time and money for both parties concerned.

Gurjit Singh pauses and takes another sip of his now cold coffee: he and the science and technology department at Sonova still have a lot of groundbreaking work to accomplish.