This past Thursday afternoon to Sunday morning the annual Hearing Loss Association of America Convention was at the Hyatt Regency in the Crystal City section of Arlington, just outside of DC… And it was a smashing success, with over 1200 people preregistered, and hundreds more walk-up for free Expo Hall passes and on-site registration, making it the largest HLAA Convention in history.
All of the HLAA workshop classes provide ASHA & AAA CEU’s; and the two I attended on Saturday were chock full of information needed by hearing healthcare providers of all stripes:
Hearing Aid Compatibility in the 21st Century was led by Senior Group Manager for Accessibility Tony Jasionowski of Panasonic and Senior Engineer Al Baum from Uniden. Al, who is active both in IEEE¹ and TIA², spared no engineering detail explaining TIA-1083 — Telephone Terminal Equipment Handset Magnetic Measurement Procedures and Performance Requirements. Yes, it’s a mouthful; but for us Engineers (and for hearing aid dispensers & audiologists) it’s a G-dsend, as it lays out on which two orthogonal axes as well as the magnetic field strength scalar quantities new phones must supply to hearing aid telecoils.
What makes TIA-1083 so nice is that it addressed the problem we Hearing Aid dispensers & users had with 1A2 POTS compatibility with the vertical T-coils found in BTE instruments, as well as the vertical T-coils glued to the faceplate of ITE’s by some manufacturers. As someone who has worked in the trenches as a retail hearing aid dispenser, nothing was more frustrating than taking the calls from irate patients (legitimately) complaining that they couldn’t hear on the phone, especially with BTE’s. HLAA’s Lise Hamlin & others cooperated with TIA to make this specification work… And it’s a signature achievement for all parties involved.
Tinnitus: Current Neuroscience Research and Theories was conducted by Amber Leaver PhD, who is a post-doctoral research fellow at Georgetown; and she taught us a lot, treating us as she would a class of grad students, and not dumbing it down. The only downside is that neither of the two recent treatments — Neuromonics or Widex Zen.
Our friend Bonnie O’Leary at Northern Virginia Resource Center (NVRC) took copious notes and emailed her Seminar report to Members; however, since the link has not yet been posted to their HLAA Convention Reports page, I am pasting Mrs O’Learys’ report below:
NVRC News – June 22, 2011
Tinnitus: Current Neuroscience Research and Theories
By: Bonnie O’Leary, 6/22/11
If you struggle with tinnitus, you are not alone. There are over 46 million people in this country who have some form of this often debilitating condition. This tinnitus workshop was presented by Amber M. Leaver, PhD, who got involved with tinnitus research at Georgetown University’s [sic] Medical Center two years ago. I thank her for providing notes from her power point to assist us in our report.
Dr. Leaver began the workshop with some background on tinnitus. It is a common hearing disorder in which a person hears a “phantom sensation” of sounds in the ear – buzzing or ringing are the most common – even though no external sound is present. Tinnitus can come and go, it can bother us
for long periods of time, or it can be present constantly. Groups at high risk for developing tinnitus include those who are exposed to loud noise: construction workers, musicians, and military personnel. More military veterans receive compensation for tinnitus and hearing loss than for any other medical issue.
Tinnitus can be associated with difficulty sleeping and fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, and other factors.
Causes of tinnitus
The exact cause of tinnitus is unknown, but there are triggers to watch out for. The most common is exposure to loud noise and resulting hearing loss. Head or neck injury, temporomandibular joint/jaw dysfunction (TMJ), and certain drugs are other triggers. However, not everyone with hearing loss or head injury develops chronic tinnitus, and this is a phenomenon that neuroscience research is attempting to understand. To understand tinnitus, we need to understand how the brains of people with tinnitus are different from those without tinnitus.
How does tinnitus affect the brain? Currently, research identifies changes in two parts of tinnitus patients’ brains: the auditory system and the limbic system.
The auditory system begins in the ear, where sound is converted to neural impulses which travel to the auditory sensory processing center, or the auditory cortex. People with tinnitus have hyper-responsiveness to sound in their auditory cortex, especially sounds like their tinnitus sensation. In all people, the auditory cortex contains tissue that’s organized by what pitch it responds to best, like a keyboard on the brain. This is called tonotopy.
When we lose our hearing, these “brain keyboards” are missing “keys” corresponding to the hearing loss, and they also have extra “keys” corresponding to pitches close to their hearing loss. In tinnitus sufferers, these extra keys often match the tinnitus sensation, and it is thought that the imbalances in hyperactivity and tonotopy produce the tinnitus sensation. What is unclear is whether these changes are due to hearing damage or to tinnitus itself, making it hard to prove that changes to the auditory system alone cause tinnitus.
The limbic system is considered the emotional part of the brain, but it has also shown to be involved in deciding the value of our thoughts and behaviors. The limbic system seems to be different in people with tinnitus due to a section of the brain being structured differently than in people without tinnitus.
Similar differences in this part of the brain are found in people with depression and chronic pain. Dr. Leaver and her colleagues propose that this part of the limbic system works like a noise-cancellation system. When this system doesn’t work well, people are not able to suppress unimportant thoughts and perceptions – including phantom perceptions like tinnitus.
The impact of research on the development of treatments for tinnitus
As many of us know, there is currently no cure for tinnitus, and there is no treatment that works for everyone. It will be crucial to identify the brain basis of tinnitus to develop effective treatments. If the brain basis is mostly auditory, then treatments should target the auditory system. If, on the other hand, the brain basis is limbic, then treatments will have to target the limbic system.
To learn more, Dr. Leaver directed us to the website for the American Tinnitus Association.
However, the highlight for me was meeting Miss Katie-louise Bailey, who came all the way from Derby, England for an action-packed week here in America with her friend Anna Herriman. For those who don’t (yet) know her, Katie-louise is a star soccer player who played for the England Deaf Ladies football team in international tournaments as well as University of Derby; and she is also one of UK’s top 250cc motocross racers, riding for the Kawasaki factory team. Besides being a well-known athlete who just happens to be hearing impaired, she is also quite a role model for deaf & HOH young adults in the Derby & Nottingham region, across England, and around the globe, with her leading by example… And I’m proud to call her my friend.
Given the size of the crowd, all went surprisingly well, with the only real glitch Sunday at the Awards Breakfast when the adjacent session of the (Wired To Fail) Loop Conference bled into the banquet room, raining on Joe Gordons’ parade as he received a Lifetime Advocacy Achievement Award for his captioning advocacy. Other than that hiccup (which was Ampetronics’ fault), Convention Director Nancy Macklin indeed did a very good job with the largest HLAA convention in history.
1: IEEE = Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, of which yours truly is also a Member.
2: TIA = Telecommunications Industry Association