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Case study: Hearing Aids for Music - impact case study

One in six of the UK adult population is affected by hearing loss, and an estimated two million people wear hearing aids. The Hearing Aids for Music project comprised a number of studies exploring the music listening behaviour of people with hearing impairments in the UK.

260 participants were recruited by the NIHR Clinical Research Network from 39 sites across England.

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Case study: Hearing Aids for Music - impact case study

Listening to music when wearing a hearing aid can be challenging, as hearing aid devices are designed first-and-foremost to transmit the information that is important for understanding speech.

Music has a larger dynamic and frequency range than speech, and these differences can cause the signal in a hearing aid to become distorted. These undesired effects may become more audible than the music itself.

Key features

  • Study dates: 1 February 2015 - 31 August 2018
  • Chief Investigator: Dr Alinka Greasley, University of Leeds
  • 260 participants were recruited to the study by NIHR Clinical Research Network from 39 sites across England
  • More than 1507 total participants recruited
  • Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Study summary

The Hearing Aids for Music (HAFM) project was the first large-scale investigation of hearing aid users’ experiences with music, both as listeners and performers.

It was also the first project of its kind to be fully accessible to those with severe/profound deafness whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL). The online survey included BSL translations of all questions and the ability to respond in BSL. Around 7% of respondents used these translations.

The project comprised a number of studies, including a wide-reaching online survey which obtained information from more than 1,500 hearing aid users. Researchers also surveyed audiologists to explore their experiences of fitting hearing aids for music in clinic.

Survey results were then used to develop a set of resources for use by audiologists and hearing aid users:

  • For hearing aid users

    A leaflet offering guidance on listening to music, directly addressing common problems as identified by patients.
  • For audiologists

    A leaflet to aid in discussions with patients in clinic, and a quick-start guide to use when fitting hearing aids.

These resources are now available to download from the project website.

Outcomes and findings

The research highlighted that whilst some hearing aid users do not experience problems with musical appreciation, others experience problems including distortion, problems identifying instruments or following lyrics, and difficulties switching between speech and music.

In some cases, these problems led to hearing aid users reducing or stopping their engagement with music, with associated negative psychosocial consequences such as frustration and depression.

Audiologists are not routinely trained in fitting hearing aids for music. Research findings showed that where some training had been undertaken (typically at conferences or CPD events) there was greater confidence in providing advice.

Any audiologists who had participated in training were also generally more confident programming hearing aids for music in clinic, and for a greater number of patients.

“Our study has provided new evidence of the benefits and challenges of listening to and performing music through hearing aids, and of strategies that can be used by patients and practitioners to help. We are delighted that our resources are already starting to have an impact on clinical practice and hope these will be useful to patients and practitioners for years to come.”

Dr Alinka Greasley, Chief Investigator of the Hearing Aids for Music study

 

Value to the NHS

The study team used their findings to produce one leaflet for patients, and two for practitioners. All three leaflets are now available free of charge, and provide advice on how to best manage the musical needs for patients as well as technical guidance about how to adjust hearing aids.

These resources provide hearing aid users with the knowledge to more effectively listen to music by understanding the technical aspects of their existing hearing aids, and empower audiologists to consider their patients’ music listening needs with them - something which was not previously standard practice.

In a pilot impact study, 90% of the audiologists surveyed had a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of hearing aid technology for music as a result of the practitioner leaflet. In addition, 95% felt more confident programming a hearing aid for music listening.

The impact was particularly strong among audiologists who had not received any prior training on the subject of music. Respondents reported improved confidence in providing advice about music listening, and an increase in their discussions of music with patients.

Resources are available for free online or in print by emailing the study team.

Key publications

International Journal of Audiology (Open Access):
Music listening and hearing aids: perspectives from audiologists and their patients. Greasley, A. E., Crook, H. & Fulford, R. J. (Accepted: 2020)