Audiology and Hearing

Audiology and Hearing

It's not just about hearing and the brain, it's about people and their communication.

Located within the Australian Hearing Hub (AHH), Audiology and Hearing Research within the Department of Linguistics is part of MQ Health, Australia's first fully integrated university-led health sciences centre. As such, our world-leading discovery and translational research is influenced by and underpins excellence in teaching and clinical care.

Our core focus of improving people’s lives led to the establishment of the Centre for Implementation of Hearing Research.

Audiology and Hearing has been instrumental in the establishment of large-scale long-standing collaborative research initiatives with external clinics and manufacturers, such as the HEARing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) (MQ as a core member: 2007-2019), the Australian Hearing Hub (established 2013), and the Cochlear-Macquarie Partnership (established 2016).

Areas of interest

How the brain creates a sense of auditory space

Prof McAlpine’s ARC Laureate Fellowship

Spatial hearing is necessary for locating the source of a sound, and critical for communication in noisy listening conditions. The object of this project is to determine how the mammalian brain, including in human listeners, represents sensitivity to interaural time differences, one of the two binaural cues, and how this representation is transformed from the brainstem to the cortex. Anticipated outcomes include a coherent model of binaural hearing that links cellular, systems and perceptual investigations, and an understanding of the human auditory brain that should facilitate novel technologies and interventions to improve hearing function.

Designing patient-centred and evidence-based hearing healthcare services, pathways and solutions

Multiple solutions exist to support hard-of-hearing individuals in their communication. The uptake of these solutions, however, is low. Effectiveness data and cost/benefit analyses are lacking to objectively compare the solutions available. And no standard referral pathway exists throughout the lifetime to support hard-of-hearing individuals and their families in their learning, work, and social environments. We established The Centre for Implementation of Hearing Research (CIHR) to gather relevant stakeholders to work together towards re-thinking and re-designing our service models and care pathways. This includes the way that we develop, conduct, and interpret research projects and how reliable knowledge can be shared with, and more easily be used by, clinicians and clients.

The Centre for Implementation of Hearing Research is directed by Professor Catherine McMahon. More information about the Centre can be found here.

Improving diagnostics, devices and interventions

Our brain adapts to the stimulation it gets. In the case of hearing, the brain adapts to the sounds, speech, and music it is exposed to. This adaptation is much more effective at a very young age, during the period when language is developing. In adults who have lost their hearing over time and have used different types of amplifications, it is difficult to estimate the quality and magnitude of speech stimulation their brain has received, and consequently, how it has adapted to hearing loss. In addition, current standard audiology tests are limited in their ability to inform on real-life everyday listening difficulties. By developing more real-life evaluations of listening abilities, gaining a better understanding of how the brain adapts to hearing loss and how it can further adapt to interventions such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and training, we aim to increase prognostic precision and monitor intervention benefits. To investigate this, our researchers measure electric and magnetic signals emitted by the brain. In particular, we are involved in the development of a unique magnetoencephalography (MEG) prototype device that has been designed to be compatible with cochlear implants, in collaboration with the Centre for Cognition and its Disorder (CCD), and the Kanazawa Institute of Technology (KIT) in Japan. Our expertise also centres on recreating 3D virtual acoustic environments (such as can be used in the AHH anechoic chamber), continuous speech and conversation tests, and using artificial intelligence to develop improved signal processing strategies for hearing devices, to overcome the main challenge of listening in noise.

Auditory processing

Many children and adults experience difficulties hearing in a noisy environment, even though their audiogram suggests that they have normal hearing. While in the past it has been suggested that it could be related to attentional difficulties, no consensus has been reached. Growing evidence suggests that current audiological tests lack the sensitivity to clearly identify what causes these difficulties. Here we investigate how monaural and binaural auditory processing, cognitive and linguistic skills are affected by noise exposure. Another aim is to determine whether music training provides a protective mechanism. Concepts such as central gain: when the brain increases a signal it cannot perceive anymore (similar to a phantom limb), are explored. Similarly, the relationship between developmental abilities such as attention, memory, listening and reading is also investigated.

An integrated approach to research, teaching and hearing healthcare

Our integrated approach to Hearing healthcare encompasses world-leading discovery and translational research, excellence in clinical care at our MQ Health Speech and Hearing Clinic, and a high-quality Master of Clinical Audiology program.

To facilitate the development, teaching and implementation of patient-centred, applicable, desirable and cost-effective interventions that are anchored in a rigorous and up-to-date evidence-base, our researchers are also clinicians, innovators, and educators, and work collaboratively towards best patient outcomes.

For example, our clinicians were involved in the international eHearing study, which seeks to understand the barriers and facilitators to hearing healthcare in adults >65 years of age across 4 countries; USA, Australia, UK, and Canada.

Master of Clinical Audiology students also engage in an independent research project providing hands-on experience in the underpinning research that supports Audiology training and services. Amongst others, these projects have supported research in remote Australian communities and developing countries.

Hearing loss and mental well-being

Around seven in ten people over the age of 65 live with either sight or hearing loss and over two-thirds live with depression and other mental illnesses. Dementia and cognitive impairment steadily rise in prevalence over the age of 65 to the point where almost one-third of people at the age of 90 are affected. Hearing and vision loss interact with cognitive declines to worsen quality of life, reduce function, increase dependency and care costs. Less than one third of people with sensory/cognitive impairment receive treatment, with marked age, gender, socio-economic and ethnic inequalities in those who do.

Hearing and vision impairment are markers of risk for cognitive decline and dementia. We use epidemiological modelling to understand relationships between hearing and vision impairment and cognitive decline, dementia, depression and anxiety as well as modelling the impact of sensory interventions on mental well-being outcomes. We work to improve early detection and diagnosis of sensory, cognitive and emotional problems in older people through specially adapted assessment and development of evidence-based clinical guidelines. We work with patients and the public to co-develop and evaluate sensory interventions to improve mental well-being outcomes. We provide new information about the economic impact of sensory impairment on mental health and use of health services for older people, and on the cost effectiveness of sensory support to improve mental well-being, quality of life and provision of services.

Our researchers

Professor David McAlpine ARC Laureate Fellowship, Director of Hearing Research and Professor of Hearing, Language and the Brain
Professor Catherine McMahon Director of Audiology and of the Centre for implementation of Hearing Research (CIHR)
Associate-Professor Mridula Sharma
Associate-Professor Piers Dawes

Associate-Professor Jorg Buchholz
Dr John Newall
Dr Jaime Undurraga
Dr Nick Haywood
Dr Jason Mikiel-Hunter
Dr Lindsey Van Yper
Dr Rebecca Kim
Dr Matthieu Recugnet
Dr Heivet Hernandez-Perez
Dr Kelly Miles

Honorary members

Dr Jessica Monaghan
Dr Joaquin Valderrama
Dr Ronny Ibrahim

Phd students

Thibault Vicente
Title: “Speech intelligibility in noise: Modelling hearing impairment and hearing aid amplification”.
Supervisors: Jorg Buchholz and Mathieu Lavandier, University of Lyon, France

Juan Pablo Faundez
Supervisor: David MacAlpine

Paula Korczynska
Supervisor: David MacAlpine

Juan Mucarquer
Supervisor: David MacAlpine

Ryssa Moffat
Supervisor: David MacAlpine

Macarena Bowen
Supervisor: David MacAlpine

Kurt Shulver
Supervisor: David MacAlpine

Contact us

Dr Piers Dawes

Louise Dodd, Project Coordinator, Australian Hearing Hub

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