Audiology and telemedicine: the world is coming back to Cernobbio

Bilingual enhancement, one of the topics at the hearing conference, once again being held in June at Lake Como. The conference, which takes place every two years, will again this year draw hundreds of prominent professionals from five continents. Topics will include auditory perception, cognition, and listening effort. Interview with event President Ferdinando Grandori.

New developments in the field of audiology, hearing loss, hearing rehabilitation, screening and early diagnosis, intervention strategies or recovering sensory function, mechanisms, effects and medical problems related to hearing loss: some of the important scientific topics to be covered in the 2016 edition of HEAL – Hearing Across the Lifespan, held as always at Villa Erba, in Cernobbio, Lake Como from June 2 to 4, 2016. The best way to present the event is to take an early look at one the most innovative topics to be addressed at the conference, signed Alessia Paglialonga, researcher at the Institute of Electronics, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering of the Italian National Research Council (CNR), and presented in the following pages. In the meantime, a warm welcome from the President and Founder of the conference, Ferdinando Grandori.

Audiology Infos Thanks to the study group created during the latest edition of HEAL, you chaired research forums on scientific content and then published them in the American Journal of Audiology. What is on the cards for the 2016 conference? What are the topics that the organizers and colleagues from across the planet will be focusing on?

Ferdinando Grandori One of the unique characteristics of this two-yearly event, long considered a meeting of the most qualified researchers and clinicians internationally, is that it places equal emphasis on scientific research in fundamental areas, development of methods and technologies, and how innovations translate into improved practices in the management of patients with hearing problems, whether at the individual patient level or concerning organization of the health system. This year, we will place particular emphasis on topics like auditory perception, cognition, and listening effort. There will also be many interesting sessions on the continued progress in cochlear implants, like in fitting of hearing aids. Significant space, with dozens of oral communications and posters, is also made for improvements in health services that take into account developments in technology and in knowledge. Lastly, we will focus on the vitally important area of the role of the family and patient organizations and associations in improving care for hearing impairments.

Audiology Infos In what direction is modern audiology going? What are the new frontiers in your opinion?

Ferdinando Grandori It will be fundamental to better understand the relationship between perception and cognition and interactions between hearing comprehension in the strict sense and intellectual performance, and the possible functional deficits related to aging or the effects of neurodegenerative disorders.

Audiology Infos Do you think that telemedicine, which will be the subject of a major session at the conference, is really going to become increasingly present in our day-to-day lives? And if so, in what way, particularly concerning hearing problems?

Ferdinando Grandori Without doubt, the incredible technological progress we have seen, which is making both equipment and software increasingly widespread, is opening new horizons in medicine in the broad sense, and in audiology in particular. We are already seeing the first fascinating applications in fitting of hearing aids and devices, as well as in rating and monitoring results.

Audiology Infos You have organized this event for over twenty years and it continues to have major international success, or even worldwide success, based on the range of participating countries, including some “off the beaten track” like Albania or Bulgaria, Nigeria, Palestine, Qatar, and Sierra Leone, to name just a few. What makes it possible to bring together such different realities and how does exchanging this wealth of experience benefit professionals?

Ferdinando Grandori The progress made in audiology these last twenty years has been extraordinary, from screening to diagnosis, development of new devices, and therapeutic approaches. The so-called Como Conferences have been able to crystalize all of these processes in a unified and coherent way. This explains why researchers, technologists, and eminent clinicians have come together to share their own results with colleagues, thus attracting delegates from the broadest contexts, including from developing countries.

Audiology Infos HEAL 2016 is being organized with the slogan: “Early intervention: the key to better hearing care”. What’s missing in health policies to help achieve a world free from deafness and how can a scientific community as reputable and broad as yours act on governments’ choices in the interests of the population’s wellbeing?

Ferdinando Grandori The problem is simple: hearing loss is not visible, whether in newborns or in adults. Its effects, however, are confused with intellectual disabilities. Hearing loss is the only disability that can lead to annoyance (“I’ve already told you a dozen times, but you don’t get it”), that forces you to raise your voice, and this inevitably causes problems. Here are some medium- to long-term solutions: increase awareness about hearing problems, examine how to reduce the stigma related to hearing loss (and hearing aids and devices), and improve accessibility to audible communication, such as public spaces equipped with systems that enable people with hearing devices to hear through electromagnetic technology. In all the countries where this has already occurred to a large extent, audiology, and the related health services, have taken up their natural role and provide what is needed to those who need it.

Claudia Patrone, editor in chief of Audiology Infos Italy