A new feature in the Signia app revolutionizes patients' hearing experience during COVID-19.
Beyond the threat to public health, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged nearly all aspects of our lives, including one of the most basic – how we communicate.
To address the hearing challenges introduced by the pandemic, Signia recently revealed the world’s first Face Mask Mode, a setting in the Signia app enabling hearing aid wearers to better understand what people wearing face masks are saying. This unique, easy-to-use feature is now available at the tap of a button for wearers of all Signia Xperience hearing aids with Bluetooth connectivity, including the new Styletto X. It will be available for the entire duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
You might be wondering why such a specific feature is important right now. The answer is that while face masks and physical distancing fulfill an important role in protecting public health, they also pose a serious challenge to speech intelligibility for anyone with even mild hearing loss.
The adverse effects of face masks on speech understanding
Face masks cover the mouth, restricting any visual speech cues that we might usually rely on, from a simple smile to full lip-reading. They also affect the acoustic properties of the speech signal. Masks can reduce frequencies in the 2000-7000 Hz range by between 3 to 12 dB* depending on the type of mask being used by the person talking. Even someone with normal hearing could experience a decrease in audibility of about 30% in this situation. This is then exacerbated by the lack of visual cues, which are proven to help improve listening performance, even in noise.
With the new Face Mask Mode in the Signia app, hearing aid wearers have a solution to this timely problem. It is available in the Universal hearing program and appears on the screen as a button with a face mask icon in the top right, next to the volume slider (see image). Face Mask Mode is activated by tapping the button, which then turns from grey to red. When 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, and it turns back to grey. It also deactivates when the wearer resets the hearing aids, changes program, or changes the Spatial Configurator.
How Face Mask Mode compensates for muffled speech signals
In terms of the audiological solutions offered by the new Face Mask Mode, it tackles specific parameters of the hearing aids’ settings that are crucial for optimal speech understanding. These include gain to enhance the spectrum most relevant to speech intelligibility, effectively compensating for the adverse acoustic effects of the face mask. It also includes adjusting noise reduction as well as microphone beamforming to the ideal settings for speech signals. In combination, these automatic adjustments offer the best possible sound impression to help the hearing aid wearer understand what is being said.
The new Face Mask Mode button is visible to all users of the Signia app with a Signia Xperience hearing aid with Bluetooth connectivity and an Android 6.0 or iOS 11 operating system or higher. Patients with these devices can easily activate Face Mask Mode themselves, without the need to come into the office or for you to add a new program.
Face Mask Mod is the latest innovation offered by Signia to help support hearing aid wearers to continue to communicate safely and effectively in these unprecedented times. A new white paper, Improving communication with face masks, outlines just how effectively Signia hearing aids have mastered this new challenge. It includes full details of the steps you and your patients can take to tackle the audiological challenges of the coronavirus crisis.