Australian researchers have discovered a way to assess a person’s hearing using heart rate.

Early detection of hearing loss is vital for babies who are born with a hearing impairment. Early detection and treatment for hearing loss is imperative for good language development, with life-long consequences for social, educational and employment opportunities, and quality of life.

Researchers at the Bionics Institute in Melbourne have discovered a new way to objectively assess hearing by measuring heart rate.

They measured the heart rate using a user-friendly brain imaging method called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which records the brain’s response to sounds as well as cardiac information such as heart rate.

Dr Mehrnaz Shoushtarian, the lead author on the paper published today in PLOS ONE, said that objective methods of measuring hearing were crucial for babies and other people who are unable to communicate what they hear to their audiologist.

Using fNIRS techniques, researchers were able to confirm that sound levels directly affect heart rate; they played a range of sounds of different loudness and monitored the participant’s cardiac response.

The results showed that heart rate was directly affected by sound levels: when lower level sounds were played, a significantly lowered heart rate was recorded; for higher level sounds an increased heart rate was recorded.

The effect of sounds on heart rate is a vital finding that contributes towards the development, led by Prof Colette McKay, of a novel objective hearing assessment system called EarGenie. This system will combine heart rate information with brain responses to enhance accuracy and effectiveness of objective hearing assessment in infants.


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