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Wireless Technology to Improve Communication in Noise
25 July 2014 (online)
The technology options available to persons with hearing challenges include very sophisticated devices that can be worn at the ear and even completely in the ear. Despite the great advances in signal processing, individuals often still have difficulty hearing when there is background noise. One solution that is routinely applied in educational settings is the use of a remote microphone that is worn by the speaker. The signal from the speaker is sent wirelessly to a receiver worn by the listener. There are numerous ways the receiver can be coupled to the personal instruments worn at the ear level. In addition, several transmission methods can be used to deliver the signal to the receiver. Regardless of the transmission method, the coupling of the receiver, or the microphone arrangement, the placement of a microphone near the speaker results in an improvement in the signal-to-noise ratio and generally a significant improvement in speech recognition in noise. With the advent of many options for wireless interfaces with computers, mobile phones, and MP3 players, there is increasing acceptance of wireless technology for many individuals with hearing challenges even outside of educational settings.
This issue of Seminars in Hearing is devoted to many of the benefits achieved with wireless hearing technologies. The articles in this issue are based on presentations by the authors at Phonak's “Advances in Audiology—Tomorrow's Solutions for Today's Challenges”. The articles represent recent research and clinical insight to provide the best possible hearing and rehabilitation solutions associated with wireless technologies for all ages. The topics include wireless applications across the life span including infants, children, teens, and adults with hearing aids and cochlear implants. The benefits of remote wireless microphones are not limited to those with hearing loss. Several researchers have explored the use of remote microphones with special groups including children with autism, auditory processing disorders, and attention deficit disorders as well as adults with traumatic brain injury. As the complexity of the transmission and wireless components increases, the need for standardization increases. Also included are reviews of professional guidelines and evaluation standards.
Although most of the papers refer to the transmission method of frequency modulation systems, or FM, this too is changing rapidly, and two research studies with the next-generation wireless digital transmission are included. The key component in all the research is the fact that the microphone has been moved closer to the source, which results in the improved signal-to-noise ratio. No doubt the technology and transmission methods will continue to evolve and professionals will need to continue to follow the literature to understand all the applications, benefits, and verification techniques to maximize communication benefits through wireless technology for their patients.