Unitron’s Global Listening Environment Study (GLES), which provides normative data for identifying atypical listening patterns, is designed to add new insights into patient counseling and fitting needs.

Three guys walk into a clinic to have their hearing checked. One’s a 65-year-old, one’s 75, and one’s 85. This isn’t a set-up for a corny joke. It’s actually a prompt to examine how—as clinicians and as an industry—we might be bringing preconceived ideas (however well-intentioned) to our fitting and counseling based on people’s age and other demographic factors.

Recently, Unitron decided to take a closer look at how much time the “average” wearer, by age and other criteria, really spends in different acoustic environments. And guess what? It’s time to throw many of those age-based preconceptions, along with some other presumptions, out the window.

What is Average? Worldwide Acoustic Mapping of Listening Environments

Image Source: Sergey Khakimullin|Dreamstime.com

The Global Listening Environment Study (GLES) took advantage of Unitron’s unique Log It All feature—which collects much more detailed information than typical data logging technology—to acoustically map how much time the average wearer spends in different listening environments.  Among the many interesting findings of the GLES, two are particularly interesting and useful to know for dispensing professionals:

1) Globally, there are more similarities across age groups, acoustically speaking, where people spend their time than there are differences.

2) This may be due to a disparity between the way a patient reports the nature of a given listening environment and the actual acoustics of the environment.

The study findings offer a distinct in-clinic advantage to dispensing professionals. With the GLES data now available in Unitron’s Truefit fitting software, when patients return from their initial trial period, you can easily compare the listening environments in which they spent their time to the normative data for others the same age. This allows you to instantly identify if their lifestyle is typical or atypical of their demographic. You can use this information, along with knowledge of where they are actually spending their time acoustically, to engage in meaningful conversations about their needs and to make better, evidence-based decisions about their hearing solutions and technology level.

Spoiler Alert! Regardless of Age, We’re More Alike than We Think 

Let’s take a closer look at the first key finding: regardless of the age of your patient, the study found that there is a much smaller difference than one might expect in the percentage of time they spend in various acoustic environments as they age. Put another way, there are no substantial differences in the average time that older people spend in specific acoustic environments when compared to younger patients. In fact, there is a larger range of differences within each age group than across age groups from 50-year- olds to 90-year-olds. This is consistent globally.

How is this information beneficial? We now have hard evidence that just because a patient is elderly doesn’t mean they spend less time in difficult acoustic environments than someone who is much younger.

Armed with this information, you now know the answer to these clinically relevant questions with respect to typical patients:

  • How much time does the average person your age spend in conversation?
  • How much time does the average person your age spend conversing in noise?
  • How much time does the average person your age spend in quiet listening?

And, most important of all, how do you, the patient in front of me, compare to the average person your age? Having this normative wearer data lets you know if your patient is “typical” or an “outlier,” and this allows you to counsel and fit them accordingly.

Perception vs Reality

Over to the second key finding: there is often a difference between the way a patient reports the nature of a given listening environment and the actual acoustics of that environment. For example, a patient reports to you that he had difficulty hearing conversations while at a restaurant in a small group (four family members). He is reporting his experience as he recalls it, thinking only about the three others at his table. However, that restaurant could have been quite busy. If that was the case, the acoustic environment was not that of a small group, but rather a large crowd situation, regardless of how your patient recalled it.

Log It All objectively classifies the acoustic environment—not the patient’s perception of the listening situation. Because the hearing aids have been objectively and continuously collecting data, we know the actual acoustic environment, rather than how the patient may have recalled it.

How is this information beneficial? Patients report to us their ability to hear in specific situations. Yet what we really need to troubleshoot a fitting, or counsel them on realistic expectations, is the previously unavailable hard data regarding the acoustics of their listening environments.  Now we have that data along with norms for people of the same age. In the past, when an 80-year-old woman described herself as a “little old lady,” it immediately conjured up a very specific perception of her amplification needs. These perceptions guided our interactions with her. But now that we know with certainty she is spending 20% more time conversing in noise than other women her age, this hard data completely redefines our understanding of her needs.

Answers: 1) Surprising, the same; 2) Rural communities; 3) Men; 4) Conversation in small group and quiet listening.

Answers: 1) Surprising, the same; 2) Rural communities; 3) Men; 4) Conversation in small group and quiet listening. Image Credit: Alexander Raths|Dreamstime.com

GLES Data: A New Tool in Your In-clinic Success Toolkit

The results of the Global Listening Environment Study are now available to you as part of Unitron’s patient insights, which brings together objective data about actual listening environments and subjective, patient-generated data to use during counseling and supporting successful, evidence-based fittings.

Having access to this additional normative wearer data allows you to identify atypical listening and lifestyle patterns. It gives you yet another tool to enhance the in-clinic experience by engaging patients in meaningful conversatio Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 1.56.27 PM ns about their listening lifestyle needs to improve outcomes and practice success.

CORRESPONDENCE can be addressed to HR or Dr Hayes at: [email protected]

Original citation for this article: Hayes D. How much do you really know about your patient? Hearing Review. 2017;24(4):22-23.