J Am Acad Audiol 2018; 29(06): 477-494
DOI: 10.3766/jaaa.16111
Thieme Medical Publishers 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.

Mild-Gain Hearing Aids as a Treatment for Adults with Self-Reported Hearing Difficulties

Christina M. Roup
*  The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Emily Post
*  The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Jessica Lewis
*  The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
29 May 2020 (online)



There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating self-reported hearing difficulties (HD; i.e., substantial difficulty in understanding speech in complex listening situations) in adults with normal pure-tone sensitivity. Anecdotally, some audiologists have tried personal mild-gain amplification as a treatment option for adults with HD. In 2008, Kuk and colleagues reported positive results of a mild-gain hearing aid trial for children with auditory processing disorders. To date, however, there have been no studies investigating the benefit of mild-gain amplification to treat HD in adults with normal audiograms.


The effectiveness of a four-week trial with mild-gain amplification for adults with self-reported HD and clinically normal hearing sensitivity was investigated.

Research Design:

Two participant groups with normal pure-tone audiograms (thresholds ≤20 dB HL 250–8000 Hz) were recruited to study the effects of self-reported HD on hearing handicap, self-perceived auditory processing difficulties, and performance on a speech-in-noise task. Furthermore, the benefit of mild-gain amplification was examined after a four-week hearing aid trial on self-perceived hearing handicap and auditory processing difficulties, and performance on an aided speech-in-noise task. Effects were analyzed using a mixed-model repeated measures analysis of variance. Posthoc analyses were performed for each significant main effect.

Study Sample:

Thirty-nine participants participated in two groups. Twenty normal hearing adults (19–27 yr) without complaints of HD were recruited as a control group. Nineteen normal hearing adults (18–58 yr) with self-reported HD were recruited for the mild-gain hearing aid trial.

Data Collection and Analysis:

Subjective complaints of HD were assessed with two questionnaires (the Hearing Handicap Inventory for Adults [HHIA] and the Auditory Processing Questionnaire [APQ]) and an auditory processing test battery (SCAN:3-A, dichotic digit recognition, gaps-in-noise test, and the 500-Hz masking level difference). Speech-in-noise abilities were assessed before and after hearing aid trial using the Revised Speech Perception in Noise Test (R-SPIN) at multiple signal-to-noise ratios. Hearing aid use and impressions during the hearing aid trial were recorded.


Results demonstrated that participants with HD perceived significantly greater hearing handicap (HHIA) and greater self-perceived auditory processing difficulties (APQ) than the control group. Participants with HD performed significantly poorer on the R-SPIN relative to controls, especially for low-predictability items. Results of the hearing aid trial for participants with HD revealed significant improvements in hearing handicap, self-perceived auditory processing difficulties, and speech-in-noise performance relative to prehearing aid trial measures. The hearing aids were well tolerated by the majority of participants with HD , with most of them wearing the hearing aids an average of 1–4 h per day.


The results from the present study suggest that adults who present with complaints of HD even in the presence of normal hearing sensitivity represent a unique population that warrants further evaluation beyond the standard hearing test. Furthermore, results from the hearing aid trial suggest that mild-gain amplification is a viable treatment option for at least some individuals with HD.

This research was supported by Widex, who provided the hearing aids.

Portions of the data from this project were presented at the 2016 AudiologyNOW! meeting in Phoenix, AZ.