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LU researchers seeking solutions to hearing loss

A team of faculty, graduate and undergraduate researchers from LU has made significant progress toward developing digital technologies as an aid for hearing loss thanks to the funding from Lamar University’s Center for Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship (CICE).

“This project gives both graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in the research process and discover how it applies to the speech and hearing sciences,” said Monica Bellon-Harn, Diane H. Shaver Professor and chair of the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

The project, “Virtual Reality: Management of Adults with Hearing Loss,” is an initiative of the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences to conduct research as an initial step toward creating a virtual reality product that can teach communication strategies to those with hearing loss. The project is one of eight recently funded by a grant from the Gill Foundation of Texas to the CICE.

Support for hearing loss sufferers is important because, if left untreated, the ailment can lead to depression, anxiety, paranoia, memory loss, dementia, brain atrophy and other conditions that affect quality of life. Of the more than 37 million affected, most cannot afford or access hearing aids.

Heading the project are faculty members: Bellon-Harn; Vinaya Manchaiah, director of audiology, Jo Mayo Endowed Professor and associate professor of audiology; Ashley Dockens, assistant professor; and Stefan Andrei, associate professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science. LU students of all levels took part in the data collection, website analysis and data interpretation.

“Along with a team of researchers, students helped develop content for an Internet-based instructional program for adults with hearing loss. It is akin to a self-help book, but online and easily accessible,” said Bellon-Harn.

First, the team determined the specific needs of adults with hearing loss. Then, they developed the necessary materials to address it. Finally, team members will arrange the materials into an effective digital learning format.

“One important part of the process is making sure adults with hearing loss can actually read and use the materials,” said Bellon-Harn.

According to Bellon-Harn, websites are often written at a very high reading level or contain limited or dubious health information.

Other aspects of the team’s studies include learning how hearing loss and hearing aids have been represented in the U.S. media, understanding the communication and social behavior of adults with hearing loss and testing the internet-based hearing rehabilitation materials with people with hearing loss.

The Gill Foundation of Texas, established by Jack and Linda Gill, provides the project’s funding. Jack Gill is the founder and retired managing partner of Vanguard Ventures in Palo Alto. He has earned distinction and honors as a scientist, senior executive, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, university professor and philanthropist throughout his career. Gill is also a member of Lamar’s College of Engineering Advisory Council and created the Gill Chair at Lamar. The Gills are members of Lamar’s Legacy Society in recognition of their support to the university.

The CICE is a partnership between Lamar University’s College of Business and College of Engineering and the Southeast Texas business community to encourage industry and university interaction. It helps to support projects, on-going research, student experiential learning, special events and training that will prepare students for their careers by exposing them to real-world experiences.