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Current Events: January 2016

Hearing Aids or Lamps?

A lamp that doubles as a hearing aid—it sounds a bit absurd, but that’s exactly what Belgian designer Bruno Vereecke has achieved.  There seems to be no limit to the possibilities of 3D printing, and hearing technologies are no exception. Vereecke created the revolutionary lamp (pictured) as an entry into a design contest to find ecologically-responsible, 3D solutions to problems. The designer was inspired by his wife and son who both suffer from hearing loss, and wanted to create something that would allow his family to hear each other a little more easily. Eventually, the solution came in the form of a lamp—an unobtrusive object that could be hung over a kitchen table. Vereecke also pointed out the importance of light for people with hearing loss, as a crucial part of seeing facial expressions and reading lips.

Besides providing light, the lamp is also specifically designed to reduce ambient noise in the room. The top of the lamp is intended to absorb environmental noise, making it easier for those with hearing loss to distinguish between different sounds. The lamp was tested in noisy environments and testers reported a 15% increase in what sounds they could understand.  The lamp can also be customized to the customer’s hearing needs, making it an effective tool in living with hearing loss.

Studies in Hereditary Hearing Loss

While hearing loss is often due to long exposures to excessive noise, many people also suffer from genetic and hereditary hearing loss. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have conducted a study that investigated a type of hereditary deafness, which can eventually lead to profound hearing loss. The deafness studied is a dysfunction that is passed through the mother and causes a mitochondrial DNA mutation.

Researchers bred and studied mice with this dysfunction and discovered that the mutation caused an overstimulation of an enzyme, AMPK, which in turn sent signals to initiate harmful and damaging actions in the ear. To combat this, the researchers reduced AMPK signaling in the mice, which had a positive effect on hearing ability. While more research is needed, the researchers who conducted the study suggest that this discovery could lead to pharmacologic treatments that address the overstimulation of AMPK and could treat certain types of hereditary deafness in the near future.

Hearing Aids May Protect Against Cognitive Decline

According to a French study conducted over 25 years, older adults with hearing loss who wear hearing aids experience cognitive decline at a similar rate to those without any hearing loss. The study’s lead author declared that the large sample size and length of the study confirms that hearing loss is closely associated to cognitive decline.

However, the study also revealed that participants who wore hearing aids experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline. Researchers cited isolation and lack of communication and engagement as factors for cognitive decline—factors which are combated by hearing aids. Along with using hearing aids, the research teams also suggested auditory rehabilitation programs, which concentrate on listening and communication skills, for elderly adults with hearing loss.  So, if you suffer from hearing loss, make sure to use hearing aids to keep your communication skills and your mind sharp!

References: 3ders.orgScience DailyReuters Health
By: Elena McPhillips

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