Objective: The purpose of this experiment was to systematically examine hearing aid benefit as measured by speech recognition and self-assessment methods across omnidirectional and directional hearing aid modes. These data were used to compare directional benefit as measured by speech recognition in the laboratory to hearing aid wearer's perceptions of benefit in everyday environments across full-time directional, full-time omnidirectional, and user selectable directional fittings. Identification of possible listening situations that resulted in different self reported hearing aid benefit as a function of microphone type was a secondary objective of this experiment.
Design: Fifteen adults with symmetrical, sloping sensorineural hearing loss were fitted bilaterally with in-the-ear (ITE) directional hearing aids. Measures of hearing aid benefit included the Profile of Hearing Aid Benefit (PHAB), the Connected Sentence Test (CST), the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT), and a daily use log. Additionally, two new subscales were developed for administration with the PHAB. These subscales were developed to specifically address situations in which directional hearing aids may provide different degrees of benefit than omnidirectional hearing aids. Participants completed these measures in three conditions: omnidirectional only (O), directional only with low-frequency gain compensation (D), and user-selectable directional/omnidirectional (DO).
Results: Results from the speech intelligibility in noise testing indicated significantly more hearing aid benefit in directional modes than omnidirectional. PHAB results indicated more benefit on the background noise subscale (BN) in the DO condition than in the O condition; however, this directional advantage was not present for the D condition. Although the reliability of the newly proposed subscales is as yet unknown, the data were interpreted as revealing a directional advantage in situations where the signal of interest was in front of the participant and a directional disadvantage in situations where the signal of interest was behind the listener or localization was required.
Conclusions: Laboratory directional benefit is reflected in self-assessment measures that focus on listening in noise when the sound source of interest is in front of the listener. The use of a directional hearing aid mode; however, may have either a positive, a neutral, or a negative impact on hearing aid benefit measured in noisy situations, depending on the specific listening situation.