How CHerUB started
The research behind CHerUB: From ‘Ladies in the Van’ to now!
From 2016 to 2020, a fantastic team of audiologists at the University of Manchester travelled across Britain running a large-scale research study, with the overall goal of working towards making sure babies are getting the maximum benefit from their hearing aids. Since the team did it all from a Luton van that was converted into a mobile research unit, they became affectionately known as the ‘Ladies in the Van’! The main aim of the research was to develop a new way to check how well babies are hearing through their hearing aids, but whilst on the road, the team also carried out a study to investigate how often babies are using their hearing aids, and families’ experiences managing the hearing aids.
The study included 81 babies and their parents who were visited when they were 3-7 months old (1 to 6 months after hearing aid fitting) and again when they were 7-21 months old.
How often were babies using their hearing aids?
Average daily hearing aid use was measured at both ages using the automatic feature built into hearing aids known as datalogging. This showed that:
daily hours of hearing aid use was varied but generally lower than the number of hours a baby is expected to be awake
when babies were younger, their hearing aids were used on average 73% of the time when they were awake
when babies were older, hearing aid use dropped to 44%, particularly for those with severe-to-profound hearing loss
What were families’ experiences managing hearing aids?
Findings from a questionnaire about experiences managing hearing aids showed that achieving consistent hearing aid use can be difficult. Some of the common challenges parents reported were:
distractions and needs of other children
struggling to get into a routine, particularly when babies were younger
babies removing their hearing aids, particularly when they were older
hearing aids not working properly
frequent feedback (whistling sound) from hearing aids
Many parents also reported low confidence in their hearing aid management abilities, particularly around troubleshooting and performing listening checks, which suggests there may be factors other than those listed above that may be impacting consistent hearing aid use.
This study adds to existing research from the United States of America raising similar challenges faced by parents.
What do these finding mean?
From very early in life, babies rapidly develop auditory pathways and an understanding of language. Before their first words, they have already learned a lot about language and how to communicate. For babies with any level of hearing loss learning a spoken language, hearing aids are a critical part of the support they receive. This is because they help babies access speech sounds, which are critical for spoken language development and to develop the auditory parts of the brain, especially in the first year of life.
By getting well-fit and functioning hearing aids from an early age and using them consistently during all waking hours, babies are more likely to have better language outcomes. Any reduction in hearing aid use – even if it’s only partial – limits auditory experience and access to spoken language, which can lead to poorer spoken language outcomes.
Receiving funding to begin CHerUB
The ‘Ladies in the Van’ hearing aid use study highlights how achieving consistent hearing aid use can be a challenge. As a result of this work led by two of CHerUB’s team members Dr Anisa Visram and Professor Kevin Munro, we were awarded funding from the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) to develop a programme of support to help families overcome the challenges of incorporating consistent hearing aid use into daily life; and so began the CHerUB project!