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Unique audiology research van to improve the lives of infants with hearing problems

Audiology VanResearchers from Manchester are taking to the road in a unique research van that will travel up and down the country, visiting the homes of infants with hearing problems.

Hearing loss can be a devastating long-term condition for children, but early intervention can reduce its negative impact on development. For this reason, babies in the UK are offered a hearing check soon after birth and hearing aids are typically prescribed and fitted by 2-3 months of age. However, there are currently no reliable tests that can provide information about how well young infants hear through their hearing aids.

Previous research has identified a promising solution to this problem called Cortical Auditory Evoked Potentials (CAEPs), which tests if sounds are being detected by the brain using recording leads attached to the head. Research led by  Kevin Munro, Ewing Professor of Audiology at The University of Manchester will now seek to validate the procedure in babies who use hearing aids.

Professor Munro and his team took into consideration the pressures on families that can make participation in research extremely difficult and made sure that they were involved in the design of the study. These families explained that if the research could be carried out at their home, it would make it much easier than having to travel to their local hospital or the university.

The £350,000 NIHR-funded study will recruit 200 infants with hearing aids from across the country. Each child will be visited by a mobile hearing research van which has been bought and kitted out through the generous funding of the Marston Family Foundation. The van, which is the first of its kind, is fitted with the necessary testing equipment and appropriate noise attenuating treatment.

Professor Munro, who is also an Honorary Consultant Clinical Scientist at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says:

The unique mobile hearing van will allow us to take our research to the families and this should mean more of them will be able to participate in this much needed study.

The van will travel across the country visiting infants at 3-6 months of age; the same babies will then be revisited at 7-9 months so that the research findings can be compared with the traditional hearing test, which works by rewarding babies who turn their head and look for sounds. The results are expected to be published 2018 and the researchers hope that their findings provide evidence that the test can be used nationwide.

Sarah Bolton, 30 from Preston, has experienced the difficulties in the provision of support as being both a previous hearing aid wearer herself and having a child diagnosed with hearing loss. Using her knowledge and experience she helped develop this research study.

"As a parent of a child with hearing loss, I know that this research is of paramount importance to many families who feel the gap between hearing aid fitting at 2-3 months and then nothing until 7-8 months. This is a time when babies need reliable access to all the sounds around them in order to learn and grow. "

A representative of the Marston Family Foundation said: "We are honoured to support this innovative research study at The University of Manchester. It is our hope that through its work, the mobile hearing research unit will help to ensure early intervention for children with hearing impairment and reduce the devastating impact that hearing loss can have on a child's early development."