Public Release: 

Research aims to improve access to music for people using hearing aids

Investigation into how music listening experiences are affected by deafness, hearing impairments and the use of hearing aids

University of Leeds

Beethoven composed some of his most famous works after he became profoundly deaf.

More recently, musicians such as Ozzy Osbourne, Brian Wilson and Phil Collins have encountered problems with their hearing. Tinnitus affects many more, from Eric Clapton and Neil Young to will.i.am.

Now a collaborative project between the University of Leeds and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is bringing together music psychologist Dr Alinka Greasley and Dr Harriet Crook, Lead Clinical Scientist for Complex Hearing Loss, to investigate how music listening experiences are affected by deafness, hearing impairments and the use of hearing aids.

The project, Hearing Aids for Music, will look at how people use hearing aids in musical situations, from listening to music at home to going to a symphony or rock concert.

Dr Greasley, from the University's School of Music, pointed out that you don't need to have lived a rock 'n' roll lifestyle to have a hearing impairment. "As a population we're tending to live longer, and many people's hearing naturally declines as we get older," she said. "Action on Hearing Loss reports that there are 10 million people with hearing impairments in the UK -- two million of them wear hearing aids -- and these numbers are rising. "Music is an important part of people's lives and can have powerful physical, social, and emotional effects on individuals, including those with all levels of hearing impairment - even the profoundly deaf. The purpose of hearing aids is to amplify speech, and evidence suggests that many hearing aid users experience problems when listening to music, such as acoustic feedback, distortion and reduced tone quality.

"Exploring these issues systematically, through a combination of in-depth interviewing and a large-scale national survey, will allow us to understand these problems and identify areas for improving the perception of music using hearing aid technology." As well as providing advice to hearing aid users, results will be used to help audiologists talk about music listening issues with patients in their clinics. The research may also benefit manufacturers of hearing aids by providing a basis for improved digital signal processing, helping users of the technology to access music.

Dr Crook, an expert in the neuroscience of music perception based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: "This is the first time hearing test data has been used alongside social psychological data to create a systematic exploration into how hearing aids affect music listening behaviours. "Improved access to music using hearing aids will benefit people of all ages, facilitating music education for deaf children and young people, music listening and performance in adulthood, and continued musical engagement into old age."

Despite the large numbers of those affected, very little is known about the music listening experiences and behaviour of people with hearing impairments because previous studies have assumed a typical level of hearing in participants. "People tell us that modern digital hearing aids have proved a revelation because they reveal hitherto 'lost' sounds such as a humming fridge or boiling kettle, yet listening to music is still problematic" said Dr Greasley.

Pianist Danny Lane, himself profoundly deaf, is Artistic Director of West Yorkshire charity Music and the Deaf, founded in 1988 to help deaf people access music and performing arts. He said: "This research is very much needed. Music and the Deaf often receives emails from musicians or parents of musical children who are frustrated with their hearing aids.

"Music forms a very important part of their lives -- anything that might help improve their enjoyment of it, whether as listeners or performers, is to be welcomed."

Dr Greasley is conducting interviews with hearing aid users and will also lead a large-scale national online survey.

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Dr Robert Fulford, a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University, is also working on the three year project, which has been awarded funding worth £247,295 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Drs Greasley, Crook and Fulford are joined by an advisory panel consisting of experts in auditory processing, digital signal processing, hearing aid fitting, hearing therapy and deaf education. Their findings will benefit hearing aid users and people with all levels of deafness, both in the UK and internationally, through open access content on the project website and forum.

For more information, see http://musicandhearingaids.org/home/

Further information

For interviews, please contact:

University of Leeds press officer Gareth Dant on 0113 343 3996 or g.j.dant@leeds.ac.uk

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust communications specialist Claudia Blake on 0114 2265033, 07799478205 and Claudia.Blake@sth.nhs.uk

University of Leeds The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 31,000 students from 147 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group research-intensive universities. We are a top 10 university for research and impact power in the UK, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, and positioned as one of the top 100 best universities in the world in the 2014 QS World University Rankings. http://www.leeds.ac.uk

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals is one of the UK's largest NHS Foundation Trusts and one of the largest and busiest teaching hospitals. We have over 15,000 staff caring for over a million patients each year at our five hospitals and in the local community:
  • The Royal Hallamshire Hospital
  • The Northern General Hospital
  • Charles Clifford Dental Hospital
  • Weston Park Cancer Hospital
  • Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital

We offer a full range of local hospital and community health services for people in Sheffield as well as specialist hospital services to patients from further afield in our many specialist centres. The Trust is recognised internationally for its work in neurosciences, spinal injuries, renal, cancer, transplantation, neurosciences and orthopaedics.

The Trust has been awarded the title of 'Hospital Trust of the Year' in the Good Hospital Guide three times in five years and we are proud to be one of the top 20% of NHS Trusts for patient satisfaction. The Trust is a recognised leader in medical research for bone, cardiac, neurosciences and long term conditions such as diabetes and lung disease. We also play a key role in the training and education of medical, nursing and dental students with our academic partners, including the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam.

For more information visit: http://www.sth.nhs.uk

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

The AHRC funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. http://www.ahrc.ac.uk

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