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University of Iowa News Release


May 6, 2008

UI hearing aid research aims to find best device for each person

When it comes to hearing loss, are the types of hearing aids that work for a 65-year-old adult also the right devices for a 6-year-old child to use? That's a question being studied by researchers in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Research is one of the activities being featured in the department during May, which is Better Hearing and Speech month (, as sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Also taking place in May is a trip to China by UI experts and doctoral students to help train health professionals who treat children with hearing loss in orphanages.

"Understanding who benefits from hearing aid features is important because children, unlike adults, are actively learning new words and how to decipher the speech around them, and hearing aid features could affect these processes," said Ruth Bentler, Ph.D., UI professor of communication sciences and disorders.

The research on hearing aids is focused on whether features in aids, such as digital noise reduction and directional microphones, benefit children ages 6 to 10. Other institutions are studying the impact of these features in adults.

"The noise reduction feature, for example, can help a person in a noisy background by reducing the annoyance, or providing more sound quality for listening. Older people often welcome this feature, but with children there's a concern that if you reduce or narrow the scope of sounds they can hear, it may reduce their learning capabilities in that environment," Bentler said.

"It's wonderful that we have many new technologies to offer people with hearing loss, but we need to understand more about which technologies are best for each person," she added.

Older adults with hearing loss may have had many years of work-related noise exposure from the military, farming, construction or factory work, in addition to health and hereditary factors. Hearing loss that occurs with advancing age is called presbycusis.

Hearing loss in children can be a result of a number of factors, including genetics, prematurity or even prenatal disease. Hearing problems also can occur in conjunction with conditions such as Down syndrome.

"Sometimes adults with hearing loss are reluctant to seek treatment due to a reluctance to admit problems, the stigma often associated with hearing aids, or because of costs," Bentler said. "Children who might need hearing aids are usually brought in at an early age and get used to wearing the devices."

Hearing aids come in two basic types: behind-the-ear and in-the-ear. With advances in technology, many devices are not much larger than an almond.

"When you compare a typical hearing aid from this decade to those from the 1980s or 1990s, it is impressive, both in terms of size and function," Bentler said. "It will be interesting to see what devices are like in another decade or two."

To learn more about the UI Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 5224-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319 335-6660