Phonak Faces of Audiology: Five minutes with Lori Rakita, Senior Manager of Clinical Research at Phonak US
AudiologyOnline: Lori, through the Faces of Audiology campaign, we have learned that solving problems is what drives you. Can you tell us more?
Lori Rakita, AuD: This is true. I have always loved challenges, and when I did not know something, I wanted to find the answer or find out how it works. When I was still in clinical practice, patients would ask me questions and I would ask myself, “why don’t we have an answer to these questions?” This led me to the research field because this is where we can answer clinical questions that audiologists face on a daily basis. This not only includes questions about the hearing aids, but also investigations that help us better understand the individual wearing the hearing aids. A topic that I really find interesting and that I have been exploring in greater detail over the last years is emotions and hearing loss.
AudiologyOnline: This is a really interesting connection. Can you explain a bit more about your research in this field and your findings?
Lori Rakita, AuD: Yes, of course! This is a topic I’m particularly passionate about, particularly because my background is in psychology. There are several dimensions of emotions we are exploring. One dimension is the ability to recognize the emotional intent of a communication partner. If someone is sad, can we read “sadness” in his or her voice? This is an incredibly important skill for relationship-building. What we at PARC, and other research centers around the world have found is that, unfortunately, individuals with hearing loss have greater difficulty with these types of “emotion identification” tasks than normal-hearing individuals. This has nothing to do with audibility, but rather the processing of the emotional affect. We are working hard to determine how and what could possibly be changed within the hearing aid processing, itself, or the creation of an auditory training program that is designed to improve this skill.
AudiologyOnline: In a recent interview with Audiology Online, we discussed the science behind Phonak Marvel. Did Marvel become the success you expected it to become?
Lori Rakita, AuD: The success of Phonak Marvel is really no surprise to us here at PARC! I have to say that researchers are typically the greatest skeptics when it comes to new products, and the ability of Phonak Marvel to produce the kind of feedback we were hearing from participants in our research studies really said it all. The First Fit Acceptance Study at PARC, investigating the opinions of brand-new hearing aid users at a first fitting appointment, allowed us to better understand the impressions at an extremely pivotal moment in the hearing aid process. These new hearing aid users never used words like, “tinny,” or “boomy,” or “echo-y,” and, in fact, they would tell us it didn’t sound like they were wearing hearing aids at all. This is a huge step forward in hearing aid innovation, and is only one small part of the Marvel package. Performance, sound quality, and connectivity are all areas of Marvel we have studied at PARC, and the capability of this device in all of these areas is really amazing.
AudiologyOnline: Research is a field that many of us are not very familiar with. Can you give us some insights into what you do at the Phonak Audiology Research Center (PARC)?
Lori Rakita, AuD: The research we conduct at PARC is customer-focused, and drives our constant exploration towards a greater understanding of hearing loss and how those discoveries can help hearing care professionals and their patients.
This means that we do not exclusively conduct theoretical research nor do we exclusively focus on hearing aid products. This really sets us apart from other research centers. We are always striving to conduct the most methodologically-rigorous research studies in a way that reflects real-world listening experiences. For example, our “Listening Loft” is designed to look and feel like the first floor of an apartment. The hearing aids are tested and refined in this space to reflect the complex acoustic scenarios hearing aid users encounter. Through our work at PARC, we have learned that the combination of technical measurements and testing hearing aids in real-life conditions holds huge potential and helps us further drive user benefit, and we keep exploring new ways of testing hearing aids in real-life settings.
My personal focus is on developing new research protocols, new ways of testing the hearing aids, and new ways of understanding the hearing aid user. This takes some creativity that may not be obvious when you think about research, and this is one of the reasons why I enjoy the work at PARC so much.
AudiologyOnline: Sports is always a great way to relax after a long working day and to keep fit. Can you share a little bit about your passion of sports?
Lori Rakita, AuD: I love yoga and dance, but I have always also had a passion for soccer. My whole family has been involved in soccer. My brother and I used to play on teams coached by my dad through high school. Today, it is of course harder to find time to practice, but I still love being active as it is the perfect way for me to relax after a long working day.
Learn more about what drives Lori in her daily work and his current projects: https://audiologyblog.phonakpro.com/faces-of-audiology/lori-rakita