The hearing aid feature designed for face masks
In July last year US hearing aid company Signia launched a function to help people with hearing loss better understand the speech of people wearing masks. The Face Mask Mode - which they say was the first feature of its kind - works via their smartphone app, increasing the loudness of frequencies associated with speech by 6dB.
Masks can reduce frequencies in the 2000-8000 Hz range by between 3 to 12 dB depending on the type of mask. Along with preventing lip-reading, they pose a serious communication challenge for people with hearing loss, but are vital to protect from coronavirus.
"It took a short amount of time to develop Face Mask Mode for the Signia app" explains Eric Branda PhD. AuD, Signia's Director of Research Audiology. "As soon as mask usage started growing globally, the impact of masks on communication became a hot topic.
"Although we had a general idea of the frequencies affected by mask wearing and by how much, we knew it was important to be precise when creating this new feature. That said, we looked at published data on face masks and determined how Face Mask Mode could be most effective for the majority of wearers and moved quickly to make it available to the public."
As well as boosting specific frequencies, the Face Mask Mode also adjusts noise reduction and microphone settings to the ideal levels for speech.
To activate the function, the user taps an on-screen button on the Signia app. When tapped, it turns from grey to red. After the hearing aid wearer has finished talking to the person wearing a mask, they can deactivate Face Mask Mode by simply tapping the button again, turning back to grey. It also deactivates when the wearer resets the hearing aids and changes program.
Branda says that once the need for this feature was identified, Signia moved quickly to develop the solution in a short space of time. "We’re lucky to have very talented individuals at Signia who could quickly interpret the effects of masks on speech and how to address them.
"Face Mask Mode started as an idea that needed a plan for the feature itself and how it would work, in addition to development and implementation in the app and as it modifies the hearing aids. Next, there was the means of creating scientific and marketing communications for the hearing care professionals and hearing aid wearers. Despite the challenge, our team was able to put in the hours to make it happen."
During the development stage it was important to keep a close relationship between hardware and software design. "Planning is done well in advance to identify what can be added to the hearing aid" Branda says. "It’s a small amount of space to work in, so when you consider rechargeable functionality, wireless technology, the chip doing the processing, components like microphones, and the algorithms that let them interact, every millimeter and milliamp has to be accounted for."
"With the existing wireless communication and connectivity options, there are a number of ways to help hearing aids provide more functionality for the hearing aid wearer. What we need to look at for the future is continuing to provide advanced technology that is easy to use, just like how pressing a single button in the app activates Face Mask Mode to help ease communication."
NHS care homes are better than private, report finds
A new survey has found that 60% of people with parents in NHS care homes believe the quality of care has improved, compared to just 49% of respondents with parents in private care facilities.
The survey was conducted by Kepler Vision Technologies, an AI-driven company formed at the University of Amsterdam. It was carried out among UK adults with parents over the age of 75.
Respondents cited more capable care staff and better monitoring systems as being the main reasons for improvement.
However those who do not have parents in assisted living facilities had a different viewpoint - in this case only 35% of respondents believe that NHS facilities are improving, compared to 32% who believe it is only improving in the private sector.
Only 18% of people whose parents live with them or independently believe care home staff are able to look after residents to a good standard.
Kepler Vision say this difference in opinion is due to perceived budget cuts and financial pressures, with 67% of people commenting that a lack of funding has had a negative effect on care in both NHS and private care facilities.
Other key findings of the survey include:
* Out of those who say quality has declined in care homes, 69% say the NHS is dealing with budget cuts and increased financial pressure, while 65% also said that the private system is dealing with these pressures too
* 55% said that they or their parent have money saved specifically to pay for their future care
* 35% said the idea of their parent in a care home makes them feel frightened, although 32% say it makes them feel secure
* 52% are worried about their parent catching COVID
* 47% are worried about their parent being lonely
* 46% are concerned they could fall over alone
The announcement of this research follows the UK government's decision to delay presenting its social care budget till the autumn.
Commenting on the research, Dr Harro Stokman, CEO of Kepler Vision Technologies said: “While it is good to see that people recognise the importance of staff and face-to-face interaction in elderly care, the huge gap in opinion between those with parents in care and those without shows that there are unfair negative perceptions around the residential care space.
"More can and should be done by care homes to give people the confidence that their relatives will receive the very best care - by highlighting the excellent work of staff and how well they are able to monitor resident’s needs with easy-to-use technology.”