The Effects of Hearing Aid Directional Microphone and Noise Reduction Processing on Listening Effort in Older Adults with Hearing Loss
06 August 2020 (online)
Background: Older listeners with hearing loss may exert more cognitive resources to maintain a level of listening performance similar to that of younger listeners with normal hearing. Unfortunately, this increase in cognitive load, which is often conceptualized as increased listening effort, may come at the cost of cognitive processing resources that might otherwise be available for other tasks.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the independent and combined effects of a hearing aid directional microphone and a noise reduction (NR) algorithm on reducing the listening effort older listeners with hearing loss expend on a speech-in-noise task.
Research Design: Participants were fitted with study worn commercially available behind-the-ear hearing aids. Listening effort on a sentence recognition in noise task was measured using an objective auditory–visual dual-task paradigm. The primary task required participants to repeat sentences presented in quiet and in a four-talker babble. The secondary task was a digital visual pursuit rotor-tracking test, for which participants were instructed to use a computer mouse to track a moving target around an ellipse that was displayed on a computer screen. Each of the two tasks was presented separately and concurrently at a fixed overall speech recognition performance level of 50% correct with and without the directional microphone and/or the NR algorithm activated in the hearing aids. In addition, participants reported how effortful it was to listen to the sentences in quiet and in background noise in the different hearing aid listening conditions.
Study Sample: Fifteen older listeners with mild sloping to severe sensorineural hearing loss participated in this study.
Results: Listening effort in background noise was significantly reduced with the directional microphones activated in the hearing aids. However, there was no significant change in listening effort with the hearing aid NR algorithm compared to no noise processing. Correlation analysis between objective and self-reported ratings of listening effort showed no significant relation.
Conclusions: Directional microphone processing effectively reduced the cognitive load of listening to speech in background noise. This is significant because it is likely that listeners with hearing impairment will frequently encounter noisy speech in their everyday communications.