As an audiologist for the last 28 years, I’ve seen A LOT of changes in the hearing industry. In the early days of my career, it was frustrating to see patients who were reporting hearing difficulties and finding the audiological results that confirmed their claims but not being able to help them. The solutions available were often worse than the problem.
Fast forward to 2002 when the first open-fit devices became available. They allowed me to help just about anyone. However, the difficulty of hearing speech in the presence of background noise has always been tough. It is the number one complaint of hearing aid wearers. With each new technology that became available, there were improvements.
Today, we have the ReSound Omnia claiming a significant improvement in speech understanding. Sounds too good to be true, so I put it to the test. I will highlight two patients in this article because they have interesting histories with hearing aids.
Patient BF has had a hearing loss since childhood and has worn many different types of hearing aids in his lifetime. His hearing test revealed a moderate-to-profound hearing loss, with most of his hearing in the severe hearing range.
When I saw the results of his evaluation, one of my recommendations was for him to consider a cochlear implant candidacy evaluation. This cochlear candidacy evaluation is completed in the best aided condition because we want to know how much benefit traditional amplification is providing. He was not ready to consider this as an option.
ReSound Omnia 961s
My other recommendation was for him to try the ReSound Omnia 961s. We saw a huge improvement in his response to tones, which were now in the mild-to-moderate range, but we don’t communicate in tones, so speech testing was completed.
Without hearing aids, the softest level he could hear and understand speech was 70 dB (for reference, this is about the volume of a barking dog), and he was only able to discriminate 68% of the words presented at 100 dB (about the level of a lawn mower). We could not complete speech in noise testing because the volume we needed was too high.
With the ReSound Omnia 961, the softest level he could hear and understand speech was 30 dB (the level of a ticking clock), and he was able to discriminate 88% of the words at 60 dB (the level of normal conversational speech). His speech in noise test was 5.5, equivalent to someone with mild difficulties. Needless to say, based on these phenomenal results, cochlear implants are off the table.
Patient CM has had a progressive hearing loss and has had four sets of hearing aids. He has a moderate-to-severe loss in one ear and a moderate loss in the other. The softest level he could hear and understand speech was 50 dB, and his discrimination score was 72% at a presentation level of 80 dB. His speech in noise test was 8.5, equivalent to a moderate signal to noise ratio loss.
With the ReSound Omnia 961, his responses to tones are now in the mild range of hearing. The softest level he can hear and understand speech is now 40 dB and his discrimination score is 88% at 60 dB presentation level. The signal to noise loss improved to 4.5, equivalent to mild difficulties.
Am I excited to offer this to my patients? YES! I am including data gathered from those patients we have fit so far. Most are using the 961 model, and a few are using the 761 model.
Those patients who are using the Omnia 961 have a significant improvement in both word recognition scores and in signal to noise ratio loss. The patients using the 761 technology have less of an improvement in the word recognition test and no change in signal to noise ratio loss.
My takeaway from looking at this limited data is that the Omnia 961 definitely delivers what it promised – improved hearing in noise. There are obviously fewer features in the 761 model. Although it delivers great sound, there is no significant improvement in hearing in noise; however, the scores were achieved at much softer volume levels in the aided condition.
Simply put, the benefit comes from being able to hear speech in noise at lower volumes when using the 761 devices. Overall, if someone wants to achieve maximum benefit from amplification, they should use premium technology.