Past Event: 2015 Spring Forum

Neurally inspired model-based treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus

Professor Becker gave an informative talk on “Neurally inspired model-based treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus” based on her research and those of several graduate students. She began by giving an overview of the problem of hearing loss 6 which affects about 10% of the population in North America but with a much higher proportion in those over 65. Tinnitus, which is primarily associated with hearing loss, can be quite debilitating and affects about a quarter of the population over 65. She gave a quick overview of conductive hearing loss which affects the passage of sound from the eardrum to the inner ear and hearing loss due to the damage to hair cells in the inner and outer cochlea caused by ageing and noise trauma. The latter affects selective frequencies and can cause loss of sound in some frequencies but also affects the natural ability to ‘tune out’ loudness in some frequencies. While hearing aids can be adjusted to compensate for hearing loss in selected frequencies there are a number of complexities or non-linearities that reduce the effectiveness of current hearing aids. Her work has been to devise a neural compensator model that can do a much better job of defining the complete spectrum of hearing loss and thus restores a near-optimal electrical signal from the auditory nerve to the brain. It is more difficult to administer and takes a lot longer than standard audio testing but has the potential to greatly improve the operation of hearing aids in the future. Since many of us are already using hearing aids and more of us will do so in the future, this is heartening news!

Professor Becker ended her talk with a description of one application of her work on the neural compensator with one of her graduate students, Michael Chrostowski, that has the potential to improve the outcome for people suffering from Tinnitus. It seems that this is almost always associated with acute hearing loss in one area which leads to some of the auditory nerves firing for any sound that they pick up. Clinical tests are now being conducted to determine if it is possible to provide a sound therapy that is customized for each individual.

Action Mobility – Resources to support persons with disabilities

Diane Montgomery , our second speaker, is a 1997 graduate of the University of Guelph and her father, Keith Slater, is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Engineering. When her father was diagnosed with ALS she and her family decided to take responsibility for caring for him in his own home – effectively setting up a long-term care facility in the house. As they developed expertise in the field they were able to found Action Mobility and to build on their own personal experience to help their customers. Diane reviewed the range of mobility equipment that is available pointing out what might be covered by CCAC or other agencies. In addition to her slides showing examples of some of the aids, she brought with her a representative number of them to demonstrate. It was an informative session, especially for many of us who are dealing with parents with these issues or ones of our own.

— Robin Davidson-Arnott