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How Does Speech Enhancement Work in Hearing Aids?

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With all the manufacturers, styles, and features available in today’s hearing aids it’s no surprise that people looking into these devices often feel overwhelmed and confused. When selecting a hearing aid, your audiologist will point you toward an appropriate hearing aid based on the results of your hearing test. However, it is important to understand some of the widely available features, like speech enhancement, in order to let your audiologist know which options are most beneficial for your situation.

Digital hearing aids are the industry standard. These hearing aids process sound through a microchip before it is amplified and presented into the ear canal. This microchip allows for several programs, or features, that adjust the sound signal into something easily heard by the listener.

The main purpose of a hearing aid is to increase the user’s ability to understand speech. In normal listening situations, even basic hearing aids perform very well. However, as the environment becomes more dynamic, understanding speech worsens for many individuals. Understanding speech in noisy environments is particularly problematic for both hearing aid users and hearing aid developers because so much “background noise” is the conversation of others.

In these situations—at a party, restaurant, or meeting for instance—unwanted noise has many of the same characteristics as the speech you want to hear. Thus, the hearing aid can’t always decipher which speech source to emphasize. Fortunately, the speech enhancement feature focuses on improving hearing in these complex situations.  It seems like each brand of hearing aid has a different term for speech enhancement but they work in essentially the same way.

By evaluating slight differences—such as the frequency (pitch), length (duration), or dynamics (spectral qualities) of sounds in the environment—automatic speech enhancement programs determine whether the sound is noise or speech. The program then takes the speech sounds and amplifies them more strongly than the background noise.

Many hearing aids use “noise reduction” in conjunction with speech enhancement to automatically emphasize the speech sounds over unwanted background noise.

Some of the most advanced hearing aids synchronize information from these features between two hearing aids, creating an incredibly advanced analysis of the environment and enabling the hearing aids to make more appropriate decisions about what sounds should be recognized as speech versus what should be considered noise

With these advancements in automatic speech enhancement and noise reduction, difficult listening situations become easier to manage.

When chosen and understood correctly, speech enhancement and noise reduction features make huge improvements in real-life listening situations by identifying miniscule differences in sounds and translating those into easier conversation and closer connections to loved ones.

Simple and clear interactions, isn’t that what we all want?