There's a bit of Niedersachsen in 80% of all hearing aids

Prof. Dr. Dr. Kollmeier talks about hearing research in Oldenburg

Around the world, there are 50 million people wearing a hearing aid.

Oldenburg is the Mecca of hearing research; this one city is home to a broad network of hearing research facilities with an excellent national and international reputation – the life's work of Prof. Dr. Dr. Birger Kollmeier. The eminent hearing researcher and networker, who received the German Future Prize for his achievements in the field of binaural hearing aids, gives an interview.

Professor Kollmeier, many people complain about noise – but when things are quiet for a change, lots of them will switch on the television or MP3 player. Is it that we can’t endure silence?

Acoustic information is the most important channel for interpersonal communication, and thus silence is often felt as a kind of emptiness, a lack of information.

What is crucial to hearing well?

The essential factor is information reduction. We’re bombarded by an enormous diversity of sound sources. We use our hearing to create an image of our environment in our heads.

How do we do that?

By sorting sound into various frequencies, but also into temporal variations and origins. Out of this we create an internal picture, to which we then apply our knowledge, our intellectual capacities and our entire socialisation.

How has it come about that more and more people are suffering from hearing loss?

Because we're living longer. In the over-65 age group every second person suffers from hearing loss that needs treatment. Across Europe, that’s around 18 percent of the population.

How many people wear a hearing aid?

Estimates mention 50 million worldwide. In Germany, 15 million people need a hearing aid, but only about 20 percent of them have one – even though today’s models are very powerful, very clear, very small. The next innovation is the binaural aid, which enhances hearing in both ears.


You’re fond of saying that there’s a bit of Oldenburg in 80 percent of all hearing aids. How come?

So far I’ve supervised 48 Ph.D candidates, and half of them hold senior positions at the hearing aid manufacturers with whom we work closely. What’s more, all manufacturers carry out tests on our patients before introducing new models to the market.

Where else is your hearing research applied?

We lead the world with our hearing models – using them, one can predict in what quality signals arrive in the hearing system, and can thus improve information transfer in hearing aids or general speech technology, for instance in computers, telephones or MP3s.

Your advice to people who want to retain a good sense of hearing?

Consciously listen to the way you hear. Then you can train your hearing or recognise deficiencies. If you’re unsure about how well you can hear, then I recommend our hearing test by telephone. The crucial factor is to start considering using a hearing aid in good time. It would help if wearing a hearing aid were as natural as wearing headphones.

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