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Signia Conversation - March 2024

Why Form Factor Design & Innovative Technology are Crucial Tools in Breaking Down the Barriers of Hearing Aid Stigma

Brian Taylor, AuD

May 13, 2024
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The stigma surrounding hearing loss affects patients mentally and physically, hindering socialization and quality of life. However, healthcare professionals now have access to advanced technologies that not only combat stigma but also improve hearing aid effectiveness, enhancing patients' overall well-being through better social engagement and mental health support.

 

AudiologyOnline: What barriers do you see patients facing when evaluating their hearing health and seeking the help they need to address hearing loss?

Brian Taylor: Patients face a number of uncertainties when it comes to finding a hearing aid that fits their lifestyle, in addition to challenging barriers to entry that often stop them from getting the help they need.

The social stigma of hearing loss is one of the greatest barriers for patients. People in all age groups can often feel embarrassed to wear hearing aids, fearing that doing so makes them appear older or less capable. In addition to societal stigma, the reluctance to make hearing aids a regular part of personal healthcare can stem from unrealized benefits of wearing them. Particularly in noisy, busy environments, hearing aids have historically fallen short of delivering the kind of enhanced hearing patients expect.

It’s well known by hearing care professionals (HCPs) that hearing loss often manifests itself in a struggle to participate in conversations at cocktail parties, restaurants, crowded meetings, and other common social and professional settings. Some patients find that when they do eventually try hearing aids, they don’t offer much help in these important situations. Instead, they amplify sound overall, leaving the patient’s ability to hear in noise unchanged.

Often, this can lead to patients giving up their hearing aids, forgetting them in a drawer, avoiding these kinds of situations entirely, or forgoing hearing aids in the first place.

AudiologyOnline: What are the broader implications of hearing aid stigma and how is it impacting the lives of patients, particularly those who are navigating senior living and the later stages of life?

Brian Taylor: When hearing aid stigma prohibits patients that need hearing aids from wearing them, their ability and willingness to socialize can dwindle. This difficulty to engage with others in group conversations, and subsequent withdrawal from social settings, is unhealthy.

We’ve all seen the tremendous development in hearing technology over the last decade or so, but not until recently have hearing aids been able to truly improve hearing in group conversations. Really, group conversations – among family, friends, and loved ones – represent the type of social engagement that’s been shown to support healthy aging, particularly for older adults.

Additionally, hearing care is a critical part of healthcare for aging adults and when perceived negatively, impacts can be far reaching. A 2020 study revealed that when individuals internalize negative perceptions of aging – including negative perceptions associated with hearing loss – it can cause unhealthy outcomes including cognitive declines, social isolation, unhealthy behaviors like smoking or excessive drinking, and even depression.

AudiologyOnline: How have modern hearing aids evolved to address social and physical challenges associated with hearing loss?

Brian Taylor: Hearing aid manufacturers have worked tirelessly to create hearing aid form factors that are desirable for patients – both from a style perspective and a technological one. The combination of top-quality tech capabilities with a sleek, modern form factor is what ultimately moves the needle when encouraging patients to consider a hearing aid.

With new, intelligent technology like Signia’s Integrated Xperience platform, patients can remain fully engaged in conversation and are less likely to withdraw from social situations. Because modern hearing aid technology delivers increasingly positive experiences for patients, they are also more likely to wear their hearing aids – ultimately contributing to increased socialization, wellness, and the destigmatization of hearing loss.

What’s more, this new technology is increasingly being packaged into hearing aid form factors that meet the high, design-centric standards of patients. Sleek, fashion-forward designs like Signia’s Styletto Slim-RIC hearing aid and Insio IX CIC and IIC hearing aids reduce the stigma associated with hearing aids, while allowing more patients than ever before to live more engaged and connected lives as a result of enhanced hearing.

AudiologyOnline: What impact does form factor design have on changing the public perception of hearing loss and helping to break the stigma associated with wearing hearing aids?

Brian Taylor: As new hearing aid technology continues to become more and more advanced in optimizing hearing in group conversations, it’s equally as important for hearing aid manufacturers to develop a wide range of modern and sleek form factors in order to fully address stigma.

Years of research helped identify three ways stigma manifests itself among those who would benefit from hearing aids. First, many persons with hearing loss are sensitive to wearing devices that look like traditional hearing aids with, rather obvious switches or buttons. Second, at a time when earbuds are commonplace, some individuals are more apt to wear prescription hearing aids if they look more like a pair of ordinary wireless earbuds. Third, many persons with hearing loss simply feel uncomfortable when the world can obviously see that they’re wearing hearing aids. Consequently, they have a desire to wear hearing aids that are virtually invisible.

At Signia, engineers have addressed these stigma barriers one-by-one through a series of discreet, stylish designs that also empower wearers to engage socially. The result is a robust portfolio of prescription hearing aids – now strengthened by our new Integrated Xperience technology – that enable easier conversation in group settings and encourage confidence.

AudiologyOnline: How can HCPs and manufacturers alike help break down the stigma of hearing loss?

Brian Taylor: As HCPs we play a critical role in encouraging our patients to embrace aging positively with hearing solutions they are proud to wear. With a richer understanding of stigma, combined with the knowledge that social engagement breeds better health, HCPs can initiate helpful, new conversations with individuals experiencing hearing loss.

HCPs can and should acknowledge the factors that keep people from taking corrective action and agency over their hearing health. It’s equally important that we describe how – by overcoming these barriers – patients will be able to live healthier, more full lives. By creating environments where patients feel comfortable sharing their fears and worries, HCPs can address them head on and provide viable solutions.

Plus, now more than ever, manufacturers are playing their part and delivering the kind of hearing aid solutions that tackle patients’ most intimate worries about hearing loss and wearing hearing aids.

AudiologyOnline: Why has hearing in noise remained a challenge amongst hearing aid manufacturers for so long?

Brian Taylor: Despite years of technological improvement, traditional hearing aids often fall short of enhancing group conversations in noise. Their focus has been on reducing noise first and then preserving speech, but they don’t fully account for the natural interactions of a fast-paced. spur-of-the-moment conversation, where people are turning their heads, and there is a spontaneous, back and forth in the dialogue between talkers.

It was critical to patient satisfaction that this challenge be solved. In social, group settings, a single missed word in conversation can lead to a missed opportunity to contribute, which can lead to frustration, isolation, and withdrawal.

AudiologyOnline: How was Signia finally able to address this challenge with the launch of Integrated Xperience?

Brian Taylor: Signia engineers have spent years addressing the challenge of hearing clearly in noisy environments. They started with technology called split processing that allowed hearing aids to divide the hearing aid wearer’s soundscape into two hemispheres – a front, focus hemisphere and a rear, background hemisphere – then process each separately so the wearer experiences better speech clarity despite the surrounding noise.

Now, they’ve taken split processing a step further with a platform that can process the front, focus hemisphere more accurately. Signia Integrated Xperience platform features RealTime Conversation Enhancement technology to improve group conversation by further analyzing the wearer’s soundscape, sensing speech from different directions, and automatically separating talkers from multiple directions from the extraneous background noises.

Signia Integrated Xperience leverages insights into the changing positions of speakers to ensure uninterrupted engagement in even the most noisy, immersive environments – creating more engaging conversations that allow wearer’s to truly contribute and ultimately enjoy a more rich and meaningful life.

AudiologyOnline: How does the Integrated Xperience platform work and what makes it stand out?

Brian Taylor: Signia’s Integrated Xperience technology works in three stages, allowing wearers to engage, interact, and participate in noisy group conversations regardless of location, movement, and noise level.

Integrated Xperience technology, unlike any other prescription hearing aid on the market today, can identify and process speech from three different locations coming from the front of the wearer. Even when the talkers are shifting positions or turning their heads, Integrated Xperience can account for these changes and continue to track the conversation, continuing to separate the conversation from background noise.

Early studies show that Integrated Xperience technology delivers critical improvements to patients in two ways. From a better hearing perspective, when presented with hearing aids that include Signia Integrated Xperience with RealTime Conversation Enhancement, 95% of participants experienced better speech-in-noise performance. In describing the real-world benefits of this performance, most wearers, usually 80% or more, agreed they were better able to contribute to conversations, feel engaged and maintain confidence.1

AudiologyOnline: Why is the ability to communicate easily in conversation increasingly vital as patients age?

Brian Taylor: Being able to communicate clearly is of increasing importance as adults age so they can remain socially active, are able to advocate for their health and wellbeing, and maintain a robust and fulfilling lifestyle.

We know that hearing loss can lead to reduced social interaction and sometimes complete withdrawal for older adults, and the health effects of this can be detrimental.

In addition to this, maintaining a positive attitude about aging is linked to healthy aging – and addressing hearing loss and ensuring clear communication is part of this. Researchers have found that when older individuals challenge aging stereotypes, they are less likely to experience mental health challenges like anxiety.

AudiologyOnline: How will hearing technology and design continue to evolve to meet the needs of HCPs and their patients?

Brian Taylor: Historically, patients and HCPs have had to make trade-offs between less visible, cosmetically appealing devices and performance in demanding listening situations. As breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and rechargeable battery technology evolve, these trade-offs will end. In the near future, even the smallest, more discrete hearing aids will have technology that tracks multiple talkers and exceeds wearers’ performance expectations, even in dynamic listening situations. In fact, Signia’s Silk Charge & Go IX, which is an invisible in-the-canal (IIC) form factor, represents the next step in this incremental improvement in both style and function.

1 Jensen et al. (2024). Real-world assessment of Signia Integrated Xperience with RealTime Conversation Enhancement. Signia White Paper

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brian taylor

Brian Taylor, AuD

Brian Taylor is a Doctor of Audiology and Senior Director of Audiology for Signia. He is also the editor of Audiology Practices, a quarterly journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, editor-at-large for Hearing Health and Technology Matters and adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Taylor has authored several peer reviewed articles and textbooks and is a highly sought out lecturer. Brian has nearly 30 years of experience as both a clinician, business manager and university instructor.



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