The research process can average 10 years, from conception to use in the field.
NAL has seen some exceptional successes, including one of its most significant creations, HearLab, a device that measures brainwave activity in babies in response to sounds.
After an audiologist fits a hearing aid to a baby, HearLab allows them to check that the sounds are getting through. This can result in a confirmation as to whether the aid requires adjustment, or whether the baby needs an implant.
Another major study in children has been LOCHI (Longitudinal Outcomes of Children with Hearing Impairment), which looked at 450 children from the first time they were fitted with hearing aids or implants, and followed them through life.
“At various defined points, we’re measuring how well we’re going in all areas—language, literacy, psychological coping, quality of life—and we’re relating those outcomes to various things that happened to them when they were young. It’s a separate study, but HearLab fits in,” says Dillon.
The LOCHI study was one of the most comprehensive studies around, he adds, and gives useful insight for parents needing to decide if their child should have an implant before they turn one-year-old.
“One of the important findings is that children should get their implants before their first birthday if they are to be maximally effective. And making that decision early is quite hard, because the infant can’t tell you very much at all.”
Also, recently NAL discovered a type of auditory processing disorder – Spatial Processing Disorder – affecting some children, which they were able to diagnose and cure.
“Even though there’s nothing wrong with their ears, their brains are not processing the sound properly,” Dillon explains.
“So we’ve got a way to diagnose that and we’ve got take-home games, where they listen to sounds that have been processed in a particular way. And after three months, they can hear a noise properly.”
Want to volunteer?
NAL is always looking for volunteers to sign up for their database.
“You come in for a hearing test and we just record your details on a database,” says Dillon.
When NAL carries out an experiment, they dip into the database to find suitable candidates.
“Sometimes they come in and do listening tests of various sorts. Sometimes they come in and we fit them with new hearing aids, and they go away with it back into real life and fill out little diaries to tell us what their reactions are to certain questions.”
Visit www.nal.gov.au to register as a volunteer.