Ahead of this event, we present a series of blogs around the subject of hearing loss, including the innovative and ground-breaking research being undertaken by our colleagues at University of Southampton. This time we talk to the team at the Auditory Implant Service about their work.
What is hearing loss and what role does it play in your work?
Over 12 million people in the UK experience hearing difficulties, affecting their ability to communicate with others, their relationships and their general wellbeing. More than 40% of those over the age of 50 have some degree of hearing loss.
The University of Southampton has its own Auditory Implant Service, providing technology to restore hearing where it has been lost. We offer cochlear implants (surgical implants used to treat deafness) for those who are severely or profoundly deaf and alternative devices to people who require amplification in the middle part of the ear.
How does hearing loss affect the patients and their loved ones?
Hearing loss can be a very isolating experience, leading people to withdraw from social situations. Opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasure of listening to music, the radio or television programmes come less often. Hearing loss also increases the risk of developing dementia as people get older. Fortunately hearing aids and hearing implants can alleviate these problems.
What innovations in treatment in the last years can you tell us about?
Technology moves forward at great speed. People with cochlear implants can now stream calls or music direct from a phone or tablet to their device, which gives a much better sound quality. The devices themselves are becoming smarter – constantly scanning the environment, to work out if a sound is speech or music or noise and adjusting the settings accordingly.
What research are you currently undertaking?
Our work focuses on improving both the sound quality that people receive from their devices and the service that we provide. We seek to understand what prevents some individuals receiving as much benefit as others and to optimise the interaction between the device and the ear, which has the potential to increase benefit for all recipients.
We would like people to access our services in a way that is most helpful for them and much work is ongoing relating to the provision of remote care, a timely piece of work!
How can your research help people with hearing loss?
One of the things we are working in is whether the experience of hearing can be enhanced by stimulating touch. We have a small research team looking into developing a device which can stimulate the sensation of touch via a device place around the wrist (this is called “electro-haptic stimulation”), and we have found so far this has great potential to enhance cochlear implant users’ appreciation of the location of sounds, ability to hear in noise, but it also has potential to enhance the experience of listening to music.
As a concert hall, we would love to know… how can people with hearing loss play and listen to music?
Even those with the greatest difficulties hearing music can often pick up the rhythm of a song or piece of music. This is a building block which we can work from. Memory is a key aspect of music appreciation so those receiving an altered sound quality from an electronic device in their ear need to bring their memory of music together with the new sound that they hear. Practise makes perfect! Children with cochlear implants learn to hear and appreciate music as they grow and so it becomes natural to them.
The University of Southampton Auditory Implant Service (USAIS) was established in 1990 to help severely to profoundly deaf adults and children. Since the programme began at this centre the surgeons have implanted over 2,000 auditory implant devices.
Professor Carl Verschuur, Director of the University of Southampton Auditory Implant Service, talks about the brilliant work being done by himself and his team.
Join us on Wednesday 15 July at 8pm to experience Platform4’s Invisible Music, when participants can journey across the mesmerising soundscape and experience life behind the impairment – helping to raise awareness for the 12 million individuals in the UK with hearing difficulties.