New research project
Good auditory ecology for active and healthy aging
Many older people suffer from hearing loss but find that their hearing aids do not always help them in noisy environments. The purpose of this project is to investigate the kind of noisy environments encountered by older people and which particular real-life situations they find most challenging. We do this using the latest smartphone technology for automatic but privacy-protected recording and individual rating of real sound environments by older participants. In the laboratory we implement similar sound environments and investigate the impact on speech communication. The knowledge of auditory ecology generated by the project will guide creation of inclusive sound environments and new counselling strategies. This will promote active and healthy aging and participation of older people in society.
This project is funded by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare and is carried out in collaboration between Mary Rudner; Elisabeth Ingo, LiU; Inga Holube, Jade University, Oldenburg, Germany and Valeri Hazan, UCL.
Cognition for communication
The drive to communicate is fundamental. In everyday life, many of us take speech communication for granted, but in some situations, we actually need to think to make it work. This is where my research comes in: I study the role of cognition in communication.
A number of factors can contribute to adverse conditions for communication. These can be classified as external factors such as background noise, reverberation and listening to a non-native speaker. However there are also internal factors that may hinder communication. These include having a hearing impairment, being a non-native language user or quite simply dual tasking. My research has contributed to establishing that for individuals with hearing impairment, individual differences in cognitive skills, including working memory capacity, are related to success in speech communication. This applies even when background noise levels are so low that they have a negligible effect on the ability to actually hear speech.
Hearing aids are designed to amplify speech but modern digital hearing aids also include a number of technologies to shape the speech signal and attenuate noise. Thus, they play an important role at the interface of the internal and external factors. Indeed they have the potential to ease communication for individuals with hearing impairment. My research has contributed to showing that the benefit of such technologies is associated with individual cognitive profile.
Sign languages are natural languages used by deaf communities. Thus, when hearing impairment is profound, sign language may be the natural communication choice. I have studied the effect of sign language use on cognitive function and its neural organization. My research has contributed to showing that working memory for sign language is functionally quite similar to working memory for spoken language but that there are subtle differences suggesting less reliance on language structure and more reliance on visuospatial storage mechanisms. I was also part of the team who for the first time differentiated the effects of deafness and sign language experience on the reorganization of auditory cortex in deaf individuals.
Leadership and learning
I am deputy research manager of the Linnaeus Centre HEAD for excellent research in cognitive hearing science and director of studies of the HEAD Graduate School. I coach budding psychologists and speech pathologists and manage a bachelor level course in Disability Research. I am also a member of the faculty appointments board.