J Am Acad Audiol 2015; 26(03): 275-288
DOI: 10.3766/jaaa.26.3.7
American Academy of Audiology. All rights reserved. (2015) American Academy of Audiology

Speech Intelligibility Benefits of Hearing Aids at Various Input Levels

Francis Kuk
Chi-chuen Lau
Petri Korhonen
Bryan Crose
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06. August 2020 (online)

Background: Although the benefits of hearing aids are generally recognized for soft- and conversational-level sounds, most studies have reported negative benefits (i.e., poorer aided than unaided performance) at high noise inputs. Advances in digital signal processing such as compression, noise reduction, and directional microphone could improve speech perception at high input levels. This could alter our view on the efficacy of hearing aids in loud, noisy situations.

Purpose: The current study compared the aided versus the unaided speech intelligibility performance of hearing-impaired (HI) listeners at various input levels (from 50–100 dB SPL) and signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs; quiet, +6, +3, and –3 dB) in order to document the benefits of modern hearing aids. In addition, subjective preference between aided and unaided sounds (speech and music) at various input levels was also compared.

Research Design: The experiment used a factorial repeated-measures design.

Study Sample: A total of 10 HI adults with symmetrical moderate to severe hearing losses served as test participants. In addition, speech intelligibility scores of five normal-hearing (NH) listeners were also measured for comparison.

Intervention: Speech perception was studied at 50 and 65 dB SPL input levels in quiet and also in noise at levels of 65, 85, and 100 dB SPL with SNRs of +6, +3, and –3 dB. This was done for all participants (HI and NH). In addition, the HI participants compared subjective preference between the aided and unaided presentations of speech and music stimuli at 50, 65, 85, and 100 dB SPL in quiet.

Data Collection and Analysis: The data were analyzed with repeated-measures analysis of variance.

Results: The results showed a decrease in aided benefits as input levels increased. However, even at the two highest input levels (i.e., 85 and 100 dB SPL), aided speech scores were still higher than the unaided speech scores. Furthermore, NH listeners and HI listeners in the aided condition showed stable speech-in-noise performance between 65 and 100 dB SPL input levels, except that the absolute performance of the NH listeners was higher than that of the HI listeners. Subjective preference for the unaided sounds versus the aided sounds increased as input level increased, with a crossover intensity at approximately 75 dB SPL for speech and 80 dB SPL for music.

Conclusions: The results supported the hypothesis that the study hearing aid can provide aided speech-in-noise benefit at very high noise inputs in a controlled environment.