Gaming to Better Hearing
Computer-based auditory training approaches have existed for decades. A major limitation of these platforms has been the transferability to real-world communication challenges. An almost universal complaint of individuals with any level of hearing loss is difficulty understanding speech in background noise. The challenge of background noise remains even with an appropriate fitting of amplification; coupling with remote microphone technologies are currently the best method for improving the signal-to-noise ratio, but also has its own inherent limitations.
Recently, the laboratory of Daniel Polley, on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and a researcher at the Eaton Peabody Laboratory, published findings from an auditory training game developed to enhance speech understanding in noise. In, Whitton et al (2017), the group studied the effectiveness of their game in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. The audiomotor game involved using a finger or stylus to identify the location of a hidden shape that was informed by an auditory gradient (change in sound level, frequency, or modulation) as the participant approached the shape; at the same time speech babble noise was present as a distractor. The game increased difficulty over time with the change in signal-to-noise ratio and complexity of shapes. The placebo game involved a word memory game, where they matched a name, color, and number to construct a puzzle. The participants trained on the activity for eight weeks.
The results showed that both the experimental (audiomotor game) and control group (word memory game) improved at their respective tasks over time. Yet, improved speech intelligibility in noise using sentences and digit sequences was limited to the experimental group. Nonetheless, benefits did not persist once training was discontinued. Check out this article for more information.
Whitton JP, Hancock KE, Shannon JM, and Polley DB. (2017) Audiomotor perceptual training enhances speech intelligibility in background noise. Curr Bio 27: 1-11.