Magazine article USA TODAY

Adjusting Speech Pitch Improves Hearing

Magazine article USA TODAY

Adjusting Speech Pitch Improves Hearing

Article excerpt

Amplifying sound through a hearing aid does not always help people suffering from hearing loss understand speech better. However, compressing sound frequency--decreasing its pitch--through new computer technology seems to aid those with high-frequency hearing loss do so, according to University of Iowa, Iowa City, research findings. "Theoretically, there was potential promise of taking speech to lower frequencies, so we wanted to try this technique one more time using new computer technology," explains Christopher W. Turner, professor of speech pathology and audiology. "We were able to lower speech frequencies [pitch] to the region where certain individuals have usable hearing."

High-frequency hearing loss affects millions of people as they age and can also be caused by disease, injury, exposure to excessive noise, or medication with adverse side effects. Hair cells in the ear normally transmit messages to the brain for interpretation. In those with severe high-frequency hearing loss, the hair cells at these levels are dead or injured. An option is to lower sound frequencies so that healthy hair cells at the lower frequencies can perceive the sound.

Individuals with high-frequency hearing loss have difficulty perceiving the softer sounds of speech or words with "f" "s" or "sh". They may also have trouble hearing women's and children's voices or comprehending others' speech amidst background noise.

Turner and co-investigator Richard Hurtig, head of speech pathology and audiology, studied three individuals with normal hearing and 15 who were able to hear most low-pitched sounds normally, but had severe hearing losses for high-pitched sounds. …

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