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Arnold School of Public Health


Fogerty receives $1.5 million NIH grant to improve speech recognition under adverse listening conditions

July 18, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD) Assistant Professor Daniel Fogerty has been awarded a five-year, $1,563,416 RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Jointly funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) for the first three years and then solely funded by NIDCD for the remaining two years, the grant will support Fogerty’s project, “Maximizing speech recognition under adverse listening conditions.”

“Hearing loss is one of the largest public health concerns that disproportionately affects older adults and limits speech understanding, particularly in noisy listening environments,” says Fogerty. “It is essential that the individual and environmental factors that limit speech understanding are identified in order to maximize the benefits that older adults with hearing loss may receive from amplified speech in adverse listening conditions.”

These adverse listening conditions, such as a noisy restaurant or other environments with competing speakers and sounds, present one of the greatest challenges for those who experience hearing loss—an estimated 36 million Americans. However, less than 20 percent of adults who have hearing loss use hearing aids.

Hearing loss is one of the largest public health concerns that disproportionately affects older adults and limits speech understanding, particularly in noisy listening environments.

-Daniel Fogerty, Assistant Professor of COMD

“Major technologic advances in hearing aids have improved speech recognition in quiet listening environments,” Fogerty says. “But hearing-aid benefit is still limited in the presence of noise, especially backgrounds of competing speech.”

With these challenges in mind, his research will advance precision audiology by focusing on the most difficult, yet highly common listening situation: speech understanding in the presence of a competing talker. Fogerty’s long-term goal is to enhance hearing aid programming in complex, real-world environments (e.g., restaurants and other public places), in order to improve communication.

The research will take place in the Speech Perception Laboratory, which Fogerty established in the COMD department when he joined the Arnold School in 2011. He came to the University of South Carolina shortly after completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Hearing Science at Indiana University (2011), where he also earned a dual Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Science and Cognitive Science (2010) and held an NIH-funded Predoctoral Fellowship in Speech, Hearing and Sensory Communication (2006-2009).

(Dr. Fogerty's) work in linking speech recognition to basic auditory and cognitive skills has the potential to offer new and significant strategies for customizing hearing aid amplification and ensuring peak advantages from these devices.

-Kenn Apel, COMD Chair

As a recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, Fogerty works closely with postdoctoral (Bobby Gibbs) and doctoral (Rachel Miller) students, as well as several master’s and undergraduate level students. Many of his undergraduate students, like Irraj Iftikhar, have received research awards through the Honor’s College or Magellan Scholars programs. The lab, in part developed with previous NIH funding, focuses on understanding speech in adverse listening conditions and provides the perfect backdrop for this next project.

“This grant will help advance the important work that Dr. Fogerty has been conducting with regard to why older adults experience challenges comprehending speech with competing talkers,” says COMD Chair Kenn Apel. “His work in linking speech recognition to basic auditory and cognitive skills has the potential to offer new and significant strategies for customizing hearing aid amplification and ensuring peak advantages from these devices.”

Our work will advance both the hearing aid itself and its most challenging problem—hearing in a noisy environment. Results from this research will hopefully lead to recommendations for improving existing technology in these challenging real-world conditions.

-Daniel Fogerty, Assistant Professor of COMD

Both young, normal-hearing listeners (ages 18-30) and older adults with normal or impaired hearing (ages 60-89) will participate in the research, which will enable Fogerty to identify potential signal processing methods to enhance speech understanding in noise for older adults, taking into account individual differences in auditory and cognitive processing. The data from these experiments will allow Fogerty to define acoustic parameters for enhanced hearing aid programming in noisy environments and identify individual processing abilities of the listener to assist in future customization of these devices and auditory training protocols.

“This research capitalizes on recent interdisciplinary advances in temporal information processing and will test a novel approach to dynamic speech processing in noise,” says Fogerty. “Our work will advance both the hearing aid itself and its most challenging problem—hearing in a noisy environment. Results from this research will hopefully lead to recommendations for improving existing technology in these challenging real-world conditions.”