Media - Sonova News Room

Quality of life from the “Listening Loft”

Sonova is successfully driving the development of innovative hearing solutions in its  globally unique research center in the USA, where research audiologists assess the effectiveness of hearing aid technology in the exact acoustic conditions in which the various devices will be used.

The direct impact of technological advances in hearing often manifests itself in profound emotion among users. Case in point:  After being fit with Phonak hearing devices, 23 year-old Austin C., an American living in California was able to hear music for the first time: “When I heard Mozart’s ‘Lacrimosa’, I was overcome by the beauty of the music – it was as if angels were singing. And I noticed the tears running down my face. For the first time in my life, I was feeling the power of music.”

When I heard Mozart’s ‘Lacrimosa’, I was overcome by the beauty of the music – it was as if angels were singing. And I noticed the tears running down my face. For the first time in my life, I was feeling the power of music.

It is moments like this in the lives of hearing aid wearers that drives Sonova to constantly push its limits in order to even better serve their specific needs. With that objective in mind, Sonova recently opened the Phonak Audiology Research Center (PARC), a unique research facility designed to push the limits of technology to produce the scientific evidence which supports those technological initiatives.

The USA was not selected as the location for the research center by chance: the country is the world’s largest market for hearing aids, and there is still considerable scope to expand supply – a perfect opportunity for an innovative company like Sonova. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, more than 35 million Americans are affected by hearing loss, but only 25% of them currently use a hearing aid. More than three million hearing aids are sold annually in the USA and in addition, no fewer than 10,000 people celebrate their 65th birthday in the States every single day – a trend that will continue over the next 18 years.

Located 30 miles outside of Chicago, the cutting-edge research center, which works closely with clinics and other scientific institutions, is unlike any other hearing aid research facility. Scientific theory and practice mesh here in a so-called “Listening Loft” where hearing aids are tested and refined under realistic listening conditions. “The work we do here at PARC not only establishes whether a product is functioning as it should; we want to know how it can improve wearers’ quality of life.” says Christine Jones, Director of the Research Center.


   


The Listening Loft’s layout includes a living and dining room with an adjacent kitchen, all equipped with a wireless speaker system used to create sound scenarios that occur in everyday life. For example, the space can be turned into a noisy party- like environment in which music and the clatter of dishes compete with a sea of voices or else the television in the living room can compete with the sound of a dishwasher in the kitchen while several people talk and another person calls from the next room. The space is also an adaptively reverberant environment that can be adjusted so that researchers can assess the effectiveness of hearing aid technology in numerous challenging acoustic conditions. The state-of-the-art center investigates a broad range of technologies, including EchoBlock, AutoSense OS, and assistive listening devices such as Roger.

“There have never been as many opportunities to make real improvements in people’s lives as there are today,” says Jones.

The research team recently witnessed a perfect example of the positive effects of PARC research on a wearer. A woman who was preparing for cochlear implant surgery to resolve her single-sided hearing loss participated in a Phonak CROS II research study. She ended up demonstrating such incredible speech recognition ability using the CROS II that she purchased the instrument immediately following the study. Shortly after, her daughter wrote to Lori Rakita, a research audiologist at PARC:

My mother is doing great. She states she hasn't been so excited since she got her first hearing aid 30 years ago. For the first time in years she feels comfortable on the phone and heard her husband in the car. It made a huge difference in her quality of life and has been truly life-changing for all of us.

Difficult listening situations such as the “cocktail party” scenario historically has been a significant challenge for people with hearing loss. Not surprisingly, for many this difficulty has often led to negative social consequences: if you are unable to make conversation over dinner or can’t understand what someone is saying to you when you are outside, on the phone or in a busy work space, you soon withdraw and may become isolated from your family, friends and co-workers.

“The biggest needs regarding hearing and speech intelligibility among people with hearing loss are the exact issues that we explore at the PARC. This process allows Phonak to continuously launch new products that lead to unprecedented gains in hearing performance and generate an evidence base that supports hearing professionals in making the best clinical decisions for their patients,” says Jones.

Several other labs also comprise the PARC. “We have a 12- speaker array set up in each of our two sound booths, enabling us to create diffuse and complex acoustic environments,” says Rakita. “When research participants come in to test new products, we want to collect both their subjective impressions and objective speech testing abilities in very complex and challenging environments,” she says.

The PARC in the US is integral to Sonova's global research network, since the center’s research results are used all over the world and are rapidly leveraged for product development.

Stefan Launer, Vice President Science & Technology at Sonova

Stefan Launer, Vice President Science & Technology at Sonova adds: “No one else goes to such lengths to test their own hearing aids.” In addition, devices can be tested at a very early stage in development. “We use this opportunity to investigate how we can exploit innovations in order to optimize them for every market. The PARC in the US is integral to Sonova's global research network, since the center’s research results are used all over the world and are rapidly leveraged for product development.”