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Heard it Here First!

Dr. Yunfang Zheng, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, received an external grant of $93,395 to compare the effectiveness of professional fitting versus self-fitting hearing aids. The research project, which is currently in the data collection stage, is conducted at the CMU Carls Center Audiology Clinic with the help of graduate audiology (AuD) students.

Dr. Zheng’s project focuses on mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss in adults. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. This type of hearing loss is permanent, thus a hearing aid is the commonly recommended form of treatment. As technology advances, so does the hearing aid. The wireless options that are currently offered allow users the convenience to control their hearing aids via phone or tablet. Additionally, as of 2017, adults with mild to moderate hearing loss can be fitted for an aid without professional intervention. Rather than being intimidated by these self-fitting hearing aids, Dr. Zheng is intrigued and curious to learn more.

After receiving an external grant in June of 2020 to pursue research on the effectiveness of self-fitting and professional-fitting aids, Dr. Zheng familiarized herself with the equipment, trained her students, and recruited study participants. Now halfway through the data collection stage of the research, Dr. Zheng and her students have conducted a human factor study and are in the process of performing a clinical study. The purpose of the human factor study is to test the feasibility of one brand of self-fitting hearing aids, and see if ordinary people can use them without professional help. Each of the 20 participants was invited to the CMU Carls Center audiology clinic and tasked with unboxing the aid and operating it. Participants were given the operating manual which taught them how to pair the hearing aid with the specific app, change the batteries, personalize their profile, adjust settings, etc.

After the human factor study was completed, Dr. Zheng and her students began conducting a clinical study to compare the fitting outcomes of self-fitted and professional-fitted aids. Up to 75 participants will be invited to the audiology clinic where they will be randomly assigned either self-fitted or professional-fitted hearing aids. Regardless of the fitting method, each participant will undergo the fitting process and be asked to wear the hearing aids for one month. The effectiveness and reliability of the aids will then be compared. By involving her students in every step of the research process, Dr. Zheng hopes to strengthen their clinical hearing aid fitting skills and help them become more competent audiology clinicians in the future.

Expected to complete the project by September of 2021, Dr. Zheng will analyze the data and prepare for the annual conference of the American Academy of Audiology, the world's largest gathering of audiologists. Once the research is completed, Dr. Zheng will submit her findings to the conference to provide useful information for both audiology professionals and people with impaired hearing in the hopes of improving the quality of life of those with hearing difficulties.

At CMU, we do research and real-world results.

Story by ORGS intern Hailey Nelson

September 2021