Compression and amplification algorithms in hearing aids impair the selectivity of neural responses to speech

Nat Biomed Eng. 2021 May 3. doi: 10.1038/s41551-021-00707-y. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

In quiet environments, hearing aids improve the perception of low-intensity sounds. However, for high-intensity sounds in background noise, the aids often fail to provide a benefit to the wearer. Here, using large-scale single-neuron recordings from hearing-impaired gerbils-an established animal model of human hearing-we show that hearing aids restore the sensitivity of neural responses to speech, but not their selectivity. Rather than reflecting a deficit in supra-threshold auditory processing, the low selectivity is a consequence of hearing-aid compression (which decreases the spectral and temporal contrasts of incoming sound) and amplification (which distorts neural responses, regardless of whether hearing is impaired). Processing strategies that avoid the trade-off between neural sensitivity and selectivity should improve the performance of hearing aids.