A hearing aid that reads minds: Speaker-independent auditory attention decoding without access to clean speech sources

Han, C., O’Sullivan, J., Luo, Y., Herrero, Mehta, A.D., & Mesgarani, N. | 2019|
Speaker-independent auditory attention decoding without access to clean speech sources|Science Advances| AAV6134 | DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav6134
New research that uses  a novel speech separation algorithm to automatically separate speakers in mixed audio, has the potential to prevent the ‘cocktail party’ problem where all sound is amplified by modern hearing aids rather than increasing the volume of an individual voice. Although the technology behind this study is in its early stages, it is a significant step toward better hearing aids that would enable wearers to converse with the people around them seamlessly and efficiently.
Image source: science.fas.columbia.edu

Speech perception in crowded environments is challenging for hearing-impaired listeners. Assistive hearing devices cannot lower interfering speakers without knowing which speaker the listener is focusing on. One possible solution is auditory attention decoding in which the brainwaves of listeners are compared with sound sources to determine the attended source, which can then be amplified to facilitate hearing. In realistic situations, however, only mixed audio is available. We utilize a novel speech separation algorithm to automatically separate speakers in mixed audio, with no need for the speakers to have prior training. Our results show that auditory attention decoding with automatically separated speakers is as accurate and fast as using clean speech sounds. The proposed method significantly improves the subjective and objective quality of the attended speaker. Our study addresses a major obstacle in actualization of auditory attention decoding that can assist hearing-impaired listeners and reduce listening effort for normal-hearing subjects (Source: Columbia University).

See also:

[News story] Columbia University A Voice in the Crowd: Experimental Brain-Controlled Hearing Aid Automatically Decodes, Identifies Who You Want to Hear

In the news:

The Guardian Scientists create mind-controlled hearing aid



App can detect acute otitis media with effusion (AOM)

Chan et al. developed a smartphone system to detect middle ear fluid that uses the microphone and speaker of a phone to emit sound and analyze its reflection (echo) from the eardrum. The smartphone system outperformed a commercial acoustic reflectometry system in detecting middle ear fluid in 98 pediatric patient ears, and the system could be easily operated by patient parents without formal medical training. This proof-of-concept screening tool could help aid in the diagnosis of ear infections. The full article is published in Science Translational Medicine.



The presence of middle ear fluid is a key diagnostic marker for two of the most common pediatric ear diseases: acute otitis media and otitis media with effusion. We present an accessible solution that uses speakers and microphones within existing smartphones to detect middle ear fluid by assessing eardrum mobility. We conducted a clinical study on 98 patient ears at a pediatric surgical center. Using leave-one-out cross-validation to estimate performance on unseen data, we obtained an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.898 for the smartphone-based machine learning algorithm. In comparison, commercial acoustic reflectometry, which requires custom hardware, achieved an AUC of 0.776. Furthermore, we achieved 85% sensitivity and 82% specificity, comparable to published performance measures for tympanometry and pneumatic otoscopy. Similar results were obtained when testing across multiple smartphone platforms. Parents of pediatric patients (n = 25 ears) demonstrated similar performance to trained clinicians when using the smartphone-based system. These results demonstrate the potential for a smartphone to be a low-barrier and effective screening tool for detecting the presence of middle ear fluid.

A copy of this article is available to Rotherham NHS staff, contact the Library 

In the news:

OnMedica Smartphone app can detect fluid in middle ear

New trial to investigate how tinnitus can affect concentration

University of Nottingham | April 2019 | New trial to investigate how tinnitus can affect concentration

Researchers at the University of Nottingham are recruiting participants to a new trial which will assess the impact of tinnitus on cognitive well-being of  people who experience it. 


Experts at the University of Nottingham at the School of Medicine and NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) want to find out which types of cognition may be different in people with tinnitus compared to people without tinnitus.

They are recruiting 144 participants who will be divided into three groups; those with severe or bothersome tinnitus, those who experience tinnitus but are not affected by it and those who do not have tinnitus. To assess how having tinnitus can affect concentration volunteers will participate in  computer-based puzzles that test concentration, clear thinking and ability to multi-task. As their is evidence to show that having this condition can affect concentration and people with tinnitus may perform differently on computer-based puzzles that measure different types of cognition.  (Source: University of Nottingham)

The study, Investigation of executive functioning in adults with and without tinnitus,is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre.

More information is available from the University of Nottingham

Kids with cochlear implants since infancy more likely to speak, not sign

Science Daily | March 2019 | Kids with cochlear implants since infancy more likely to speak, not sign

A US study from researchers at a Chicago hospital reports that deaf children who received cochlear implants (implanted electronic hearing device) before 12 months of age learn to more rapidly understand spoken language and are more likely to develop spoken language as their exclusive form of communication- this was true even for children with additional conditions often associated with language delay, such as significantly premature birth.

In their findings, which have been published in  Otology and Neurotology, researchers also showed that implantation surgery and anesthesia were safe in young children, including infants (via Science Daily).

Full news story from Science Daily

Full reference: Hoff, S. et al | 2019 | Safety and Effectiveness of Cochlear Implantation of Young Children, Including Those With Complicating Conditions|Otology & Neurotology | Publish Ahead of Print MAR 2019 |DOI: 10.1097/MAO.0000000000002156

Objective: Determine safety and effectiveness of cochlear implantation of children under age 37 months, including below age 12 months.  Study Design: Retrospective review. Setting:Tertiary care children’s medical center.Patients:219 children implanted before age 37 mos; 39 implanted below age 12 mos and 180 ages 12–36 mos. Mean age CI = 20.9 mos overall; 9.4 mos (5.9–11.8) and 23.4 mos (12.1–36.8) for the two age groups, respectively. All but two more than or equal to 12 mos (94.9%) received bilateral implants as did 70.5% of older group. Mean follow-up = 5.8 yrs; age last follow-up = 7.5 yrs, with no difference between groups.Interventions:Cochlear implantation.Main outcome measures:Surgical and anesthesia complications, measurable open-set speech discrimination, primary communication mode(s). Results: Few surgical complications occurred, with no difference by age group. No major anesthetic morbidity occurred, with no critical events requiring intervention in the younger group while 4 older children experienced desaturations or bradycardia/hypotension. Children implanted under 12 mos developed open-set earlier (3.3 yrs vs 4.3 yrs, p  more than  0.001) and were more likely to develop oral-only communication (88.2% vs 48.8%, p more than or equal to  0.001). A significant decline in rate of oral-only communication was present if implanted over 24 months, especially when comparing children with and without additional conditions associated with language delay (8.3% and 35%, respectively).Conclusions:Implantation of children under 37 months of age can be done safely, including those below age 12 mos. Implantation below 12 mos is positively associated with earlier open-set ability and oral-only communication. Children implanted after age 24 months were much less likely to use oral communication exclusively, especially those with complex medical history or additional conditions associated with language delay.  


Type 2 diabetes and the risk of incident hearing loss

Gupta, S., Eavey, R. D., Wang, M., Curhan, S. G., & Curhan, G. C. |2019|Type 2 diabetes and the risk of incident hearing loss| Diabetologia|62|2|P. 281-285.

New research published in the journal Diabetologica examined whether type 2 diabetes (including diabetes duration) is associated with incident hearing loss in two prospective cohorts. 



Type 2 diabetes mellitus has been implicated as a risk factor for hearing loss, with possible mechanisms including microvascular disease, acoustic neuropathy or oxidative stress. A few small studies have examined the longitudinal association between type 2 diabetes and hearing loss, but larger studies are needed. Our objective was to examine whether type 2 diabetes (including diabetes duration) is associated with incident hearing loss in two prospective cohorts: Nurses’ Health Studies (NHS) I and II.


We conducted a longitudinal study of 139,909 women to examine the relationship between type 2 diabetes and the risk of self-reported incident hearing loss. A physician-diagnosis of diabetes was ascertained from biennial questionnaires. The primary outcome was hearing loss reported as moderate or worse in severity (categorised as a ‘moderate or severe’ hearing problem, or ‘moderate hearing trouble or deaf’) on questionnaires administered in 2012 in NHS I and 2009 or 2013 in NHS II. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to adjust for potential confounders.


During >2.4 million person-years of follow-up, 664 cases of moderate or worse hearing loss were reported among those with type 2 diabetes and 10,022 cases among those without type 2 diabetes. Compared with women who did not have type 2 diabetes, those with type 2 diabetes were at higher risk for incident moderate or worse hearing loss (pooled multivariable-adjusted HR 1.16 [95% CI 1.07, 1.27]). Participants who had type 2 diabetes for ≥8 years had a higher risk of moderate or worse hearing loss compared with those without type 2 diabetes (pooled multivariable-adjusted HR 1.24 [95% CI 1.10, 1.40]).


In this large longitudinal study, type 2 diabetes was associated with a modestly higher risk of moderate or worse hearing loss. Furthermore, longer duration diabetes was associated with a higher risk of moderate or worse hearing loss.

Rotherham NHS staff can request this article from the Library

Changing Hearing Performance and Sound Preference With Words and Expectations: Meaning Responses in Audiology

Hodgetts, W. E., Aalto, D., Ostevik, A., & Cummine, J. |2018 | Changing Hearing Performance and Sound Preference With Words and Expectations: Meaning Responses in Audiology| Ear and hearing| Epub ahead of print | Doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000634

A new article, soon to be published in the journal Ear and hearing, adds to the literature on nonauditory factors such as motivation, effort, and task demands that can impact performance in clinics and laboratories. 



In this article, we explore two manipulations of “meaning response,” intended to either “impart” meaning to participants through the manipulation of a few words in the test instructions or to “invite” meaning by making the participant feel involved in the setting of their preferred sound.


In experiment 1, 59 adults with normal hearing were randomly assigned to one of the two groups. Group 1 was told “this hearing in noise test (HINT) you are about to do is really hard,” while the second group was told “this HINT test is really easy.” In experiment 2, 59 normal-hearing adults were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Every participant was played a highly distorted sound file and given 5 mystery sliders on a computer to move as often and as much as they wished until the sound was “best” to them. They were then told we applied their settings to a new file and they needed to rate their sound settings on this new file against either (1) another participant in the study, or (2) an expert audiologist. In fact, we played them the same sound file twice.


In experiment 1, those who were told the test was hard performed significantly better than the easy group. In experiment 2, a significant preference was found in the group when comparing “my setting” to “another participant.” No significant difference was found in the group comparing “my setting” to the “expert.”


Imparting or inviting meaning into the context of audiological outcome measurement can alter outcomes even in the absence of any additional technology or treatment. These findings lend support to a growing body of research about the many nonauditory factors including motivation, effort, and task demands that can impact performance in our clinics and laboratories.

Rotherham NHS staff can request this article here 


Individuals with intellectual disabilities who have hearing impairments

Willem Meindert Buskermolen, Joop Hoekman, Albert Pierre Aldenkamp (2016). The nature and rate of behaviour that challenges in individuals with intellectual disabilities who have hearing impairments/deafness (a longitudinal prospective cohort survey). British Journal of Learning Disabilities. DOI: 10.1111/bld.12173


Background: In this article, we describe our study of the prevalence of behaviour that challenges and which internal factors are related to behaviour that challenges in 21 people (fourteen are male, seven are female, varying in age from 12.4 to 42 years; mean 26.6, SD 7.27) with intellectual disabilities who have hearing impairments.

Materials and Methods: Data were obtained by recording behaviour on a daily basis during one year using the ‘Individual Behaviour Observation and Rating Scale’ that was developed especially for this study.

Results: It was found that 100% of the participants in this study showed behaviour that challenges, although this was not observed every day in each participant. Prevalence rates during a year varied from 1.8% to 77.3%. On average, the prevalence rate was 28.9%. We found a significantly negative correlation between behaviour that challenges and delay of communication as well as the level of social independence. We also found that in people with autism spectrum disorder, the prevalence of behaviour that challenges was significantly higher than in people without autism spectrum disorder. The level of intellectual disability as well as the level of hearing impairments was not related to the prevalence of behaviour that challenges.

Conclusion: Because there are several patterns of increasing and decreasing behaviour that challenges throughout the day, it is not possible to draw one conclusion on this issue for the whole group. However, where certain individual patterns can be recognised, it is possible to make individual plans for the clients. This could mean an improvement in daily care and as a result an improvement in the quality of life for people with intellectual disability who have hearing impairments. Implications for clinical practice are discussed.