Currently submitted to: JMIR mHealth and uHealth
Date Submitted: Nov 5, 2020
Open Peer Review Period: Nov 5, 2020 - Dec 31, 2020
(currently open for review)
Feasibility of smartphone-based hearing-aid apps for patients with mild hearing loss: an exploratory pilot study
Underuse of hearing aids is caused by several factors, including the stigma associated with hearing disability, affordability, and lack of awareness of rising hearing impairment associated with the growing population. Thus, there is a significant opportunity for the development of direct-to-consumer devices. For the past few years, smartphone-based hearing-aid apps have become more numerous and diverse, but few studies have investigated them.
This study aimed to elucidate the electroacoustic characteristics and potential user benefits of a selection of currently available hearing-aid apps.
We investigated the apps based on hearing-aid control standards (American National Standards Institute) using measurement procedures from previous studies. We categorized the apps and excluded those we considered inefficient. We investigated a selection of user-friendly, low-end apps, EarMachine and Sound Amplifier, with warble-tone audiometry, word recognition testing in unaided and aided conditions, and hearing-in-noise test in quiet and noise-front conditions in a group of users with mild hearing impairment (n = 7) as a pilot for a future long-term investigation. Results from the apps were compared with those of a conventional hearing aid.
Five of 14 apps were considered unusable based on low scores in several metrics, while the others varied across the range of electroacoustic measurements. The apps that we considered “high end” that provided lower processing latencies and audiogram-based fitting algorithms were superior overall. The clinical performance of the listeners tended to be better when using hearing aid, while the low end hearing-aid apps had limited benefits on the users.
Some apps showed the potential to benefit users with limited cases of minimal or mild hearing loss if the inconvenience of relatively poor electroacoustic performance did not outweigh the benefits of amplification.
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