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UC project aims to help half a million Kiwis

UC project aims to help half a million Kiwis with hearing problems

A major University of Canterbury (UC) research project aims to help many of the 500,000 New Zealanders who are deaf and have hearing problems.

UC researcher Dr Donald Derrick said his research team intend to use their research to improve speech perception through audio devices.

``This would include hearing aids, smart phones, headphones and emergency radios. As a result, our research will help everyone hear what comes through audio devices more accurately, including those with hearing problems.

The National Foundation for the Deaf has said by 2050 one in four New Zealanders will suffer from hearing loss, compared with one in six in 2005.

The foundation has estimated that hearing loss is costing the country $2.83 billion, or 1.4 per cent of GDP. A significant amount of hearing loss, 37 per cent, is due to excessive noise exposure which is preventable.

Dr Derrick said exposure to excessive noise damages hearing, and hearing worsens with age. Both these factors help explain the upward trend of per-capita hearing loss.

``Hearing aids can cost up to $10,000 and without government support they are likely to be outside the reach of many New Zealanders.

``Not just smartphones but all manner of modern communication through computers are helping the New Zealand deaf community. The prevalence of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, instant messaging and texting have made it easier than ever for the hard of hearing to communicate.

``Nevertheless, audio communications remain difficult for many people and it is our intention to improve audio devices for everyone.

``One advantage of our research is that we could improve audio devices without any intervention or learning on behalf of the users. This reduces the barriers to all users, especially the elderly.’’

UC’s New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour research team, headed by Dr Derrick, has been given more than $550,000 of government funding to work on the project which could be the first invention of its kind in the world when completed.

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