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Audiology Expands Its View: Meet Dr. Melody Martin

Dr. Melody Martin, Au.D, Ph.D. and owner of Martin Audiology knows a lot about hearing health and effective communication as she demonstrated during an exclusive interview with Audiology Onlines Editor, Dr. Paul Dybala.

Dr. Martin, who is a dually licensed speech language pathologist and audiologist from Texas, spoke with Dr. Dybala during a recent interview covering a broad range of topics of interest to the general public (thats you!). Two topics were of special interest, The Martin Audiology EarStore and the use of special listening therapy to help patients adjust to hearing aids.

The EarStore

Martin Audiology, is one of the largest practices in central Texas with four offices in that region. Recently, Dr. Martin expanded Martin Audiology by opening The EarStore an outlet for people with hearing loss and people with normal hearing, as well. The EarStore carries products for hearing protection, cell phone accessories and other devices to improve communication. Heres how Dr. Martin described her retail outlet:

the concept comes from the idea that we [audiologists] are communication specialists, and we are specializing in ear-level communication. We have Bluetooth [wireless] hands-free devices for cellular needs, we have ear molds for iPods, we have a huge display of assistive listening devices; individuals can come in and try out any of these products.

This is unique, because unlike online ordering, these are not devices you have to order to see if they work for your specific needs and then send back if they dont. It's a retail concept. And, you don't need an appointment. Of course, if you needed a hearing screening we have those available. It's more open to the public. We wanted this to be an extension or an expansion of how the public perceives audiology, that we truly are communication specialists.

The concept is a good one. It opens access to the public interested in not only improving their hearing but protecting their hearing, as well. Walk in. No appointment is needed and customers can try before they buy, whether its protective ear cups for on-the-job hearing protection or a wireless headset designed to pick up cell phone signals so those who experience hearing loss can stay connected to the modern communications grid.

LACE Aural Rehabilitation

LACE stands for Listening and Communications Enhancement, something with which Dr. Martin has been involved for several years. LACE is an auditory training program developed by NeuroTone, Inc. in partnership with hearing aid manufacturer Starkey Laboratories. It is, quite simply, a program that teaches people how to communicate more clearly after experiencing hearing loss and getting hearing aids. A press release from Starkey describes LACE this way:

Hearing aids help users better detect sounds and achieve improved hearing. LACE helps hearing aid users achieve better overall communication. Through interactive tasks, LACE helps hearing aid users develop better listening skills, rapid thought processing, auditory memory, and language skills.

The training program consists of a 20-day course of 30-minute, computer-based activities emphasizing adaptive skills development that prepare new hearing aid users to get the most from their new devices. The LACE software approaches improved communication from three perspectives: degraded speech, which helps listeners focus on speech in loud environments; cognitive skills development, which improves short- and long-term auditory memory so that hearing aid wearers can process sound more efficiently and; communication skills enhancement, which provides skills and coping strategies to assist those with hearing loss in routine, day-to-day communication activities.

Dr. Martins Field Testing

Dr. Martin conducted a small, in-house study looking at subjective and objective patient outcomes results based on listeners subjective opinions and objective measurements using sound measuring devices. The results were very positive.

we showed a 4.1 SNR improvement with QuickSIN, and then we used the HHIE and showed a significant improvement with overall patient satisfaction after the implementation of LACE. We also had a custom questionnaire that we gave to patients asking them about their overall LACE experience. Generally, it was very favorable, and patients were very impressed with the professional care they received from us. That was really one of the highlights with their LACE experience. They felt that we were really addressing their needs.

What does all of this mean? Patients not only showed improvement with a speech repetition test conducted in background noise (QuickSIN), but also in various benefit questionnaires (HHIE).

A New Approach to Audiology?

According to Dr. Martin, the LACE training program signals change in our field. Its a reorientation from product to process, from the audibility of sound to the process of better hearing and understanding.

The point is well made by Dr. Martin. LACE expands opportunities for the professional audiology community to improve hearing and communication, which involves hearing as well as a number of other skills addressed by LACE training.

we encourage all of our patients to participate in LACE, Dr. Martin explained. From the first consultation, we counsel them not only about appropriate amplification [loudness of sound] but that better hearing is a process. You need to work with your brain to help give proper meaning to all the new sounds it will be receiving with [a hearing device].

Dr. Martins practice maintains LACE labs in all of its four offices for those who arent comfortable with computer technology. For those who are sufficiently computer literate, the software can be installed on the home system and used when convenient. Its the patients choice.

The point that the science of audiology is changing from product to process is whats critical in Dr. Martins view. In the past, hearing health professionals addressed hearing loss through the use of different hearing aid technologies. The process was product driven fitting the right product to best suit the hearing needs of the wearer.

Today, according to Dr. Martin and Starkey Laboratories, audiologists are taking a more expansive view of hearing problems. These problems are no longer seen as a singular impairment that can be fixed with a hearing device. The dynamics of hearing loss and effective communication are very much in play. Theyre just as much a part of the problem as the hearing impairment itself.

Thats why LACE takes a multi-facetted approach to easing patients into hearing processed sound. Degraded speech from fast talkers, cognitive recognition of sounds and effective communication the give-and-take discourse of everyday life are now seen as part of the solution to the long-recognized problem of hearing comfort.

A New Way of Reaching Out

Improving and protecting hearing is what the profession of Audiology is all about. Martin Audiology has shown some innovative methods on how to do this through their EarStore and the use of LACE therapy. Look for these new ideas coming to an audiology practice near you soon!

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