Observations

StromAlthough hearing instruments with directional microphone systems made up only 29% of the hearing aids dispensed during early-2003, this product category is growing rapidly in market share. HR estimates that well over half of all hearing aids in 2004 will feature directional microphone systems. And with good reason: these hearing aids are currently the most effective solution for hearing in noise. Knowles MarkeTrak data suggests that, even if we were able to give away free, invisible hearing instruments, only 35% of the current 21 million adults who do not purchase hearing aids would accept them. As Sergei Kochkin has pointed out, the reason for this is that hearing aids need to have multiple-environment listening utility in order to be truly valuable to most users. Few people live their lives in quiet, soundbooth-like settings. And the very reason many consumers buy hearing aids is to hear better at family gatherings, offices, places of worship, and other noisy places. For hearing aids to have a value that is in line with the expectations of many consumers, the products need to perform well in noise. In fact, when a good directional microphone system is employed, MarkeTrak VI (February 2003 HR, page 22) suggests that programmable hearing aids can attain an 81% satisfaction rating. In effect, this high level of customer satisfaction is comparable to new cars and consumer electronics. It even beats out consumers’ satisfaction with beer!

In this month’s HR, Mead Killion, PhD, offers a fascinating perspective on directional microphone systems. He points out that, because relatively few dispensing professionals routinely conduct hearing-in-noise tests (eg, HINT, SIN, or QuickSIN), a large number of hearing aid wearers are leaving hearing care offices with a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) hearing loss of 5 dB or more. In these cases, the users’ hearing aids will be next-to-useless in many noisy environments. Directional instruments are so important that Killion suggests that the impact of widescale implementation of good directional systems may be enough to end the stigma associated with hearing aid use. However, he also believes that not all directional systems “are created equal.” While hearing aids with relatively low SNR improvement (eg, less than 2 dB SNR) can still be very valuable to listeners (eg, 14-20% improvement on word scores), the benefits of these systems may not be readily noticeable by users in most real-world listening environments. Also in this issue, Michael Valente, PhD, and Karen Mispagel, MS, present exceptional data on an automatic adaptive directional system, and Andrea Bohnert, MTA, and Petra Brantzen, MTA, discuss the fitting of a directional hearing aid system on children and adolescents.

• Passings. Three people who made a significant and lasting impact on hearing healthcare died in December. Gunnar Linden, PhD, a pediatrician and audiologist who started the audiology department at Sweden’s Karalinska Institute (one of the largest audiology clinics in Scandinavia), died on December 29. Linden was a professor of audiology at the University of Gothenburg Medical School, pioneered the study of impedance measurements, and was a visiting professor at Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota. Peter Werth, founder of PC Werth Ltd of London and widely credited with being the father of multi-line dispensing in England, died on December 10. Werth was the co-founder of the Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists of Great Britain (SHAA), and among many other things, helped pioneer the area of FM amplification for children and introduced many European companies to their American counterparts. Tributes to Linden and Werth will appear in the next issue of HR. Poul Erik Lyregaard, a longtime innovator and hearing scientist for Oticon, died in December. Lyregaard was instrumental in the founding of the Eriksholm Research Center near Copenhagen and was greatly respected by engineers and hearing scientists throughout the industry (see page 74 of this issue).

Karl Strom
Editor-In-Chief