Starkey Research & Clinical Blog

Can Aided Audibility Predict Pediatric Lexical Development?

Stiles, D.J., Bentler, R.A., & McGregor, K.K. (2012). The speech intelligibility index and the pure-tone average as predictors of lexical ability in children fit with hearing aids. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 55, 764-778.

This editorial discusses the clinical implications of an independent research study and does not represent the opinions of the original authors.

Despite advances in early hearing loss identification, hearing aid technology, and fitting and verification tools, children with hearing loss consistently demonstrate limited lexical abilities compared to children with normal hearing.  These limitations have been illustrated by poorer performance on tests of vocabulary (Davis et al., 1986), word learning (Gilbertson & Kamhi, 1995; Stelmachowicz et al., 2004), phonological discrimination, and non-word repetition (Briscoe et al., 2001; Delage & Tuller, 2007; Norbury, et al., 2001).

There are a number of variables that may predict hearing-impaired children’s performance on speech and language tasks, including the age at which they were first fitted with hearing aids and the degree of hearing loss.  Moeller (2000) found that children who received earlier aural rehabilitation intervention demonstrated significantly larger receptive vocabularies than those who received later intervention.  Degree of hearing loss, which is typically defined in studies by the pure-tone average (PTA) or the average of pure-tone hearing thresholds at 500Hz, 1000Hz, and 2000Hz (Fletcher, 1929), has been significantly correlated with speech recognition (Davis et al., 1986; Gilbertson & Kamhi, 1995), receptive vocabulary (Fitzpatrick et al., 2007; Wake et al., 2005), expressive grammar, and word recognition (Delage & Tuller, 2007) in some studies comparing hearing-impaired children to those with normal hearing.

In contrast, other studies have reported that pure-tone average (PTA) did not predict language ability in hearing-impaired children.  Davis et al. (1986) tested hearing-impaired subjects between five and18 years of age and found no significant relationship between PTA and vocabulary, verbal ability, reasoning, and reading.  However, all subjects scored below average on these measures, regardless of their degree of hearing loss.  Similarly, Moeller (2000) found that age of intervention affected vocabulary and verbal reasoning, but PTA did not.  Gilbertson and Kamhi (1995) studied novel word learning in hearing-impaired children ranging in age from  seven to 10 years and found that neither PTA nor unaided speech recognition threshold was correlated to receptive vocabulary level or word learning.

At a glance, it seems likely that degree of hearing loss should affect language development and ability, because hearing loss affects audibility, and speech must be audible in order to be processed and learned.  However, the typical PTA of thresholds at 500Hz, 1000Hz, and 2000Hz does not take into account high-frequency speech information beyond 2000Hz.  Some studies using averages of high-frequency pure-tone thresholds (HFPTA) have found a significant relationship between degree of loss and speech recognition (Amos & Humes, 2007; Glista et al., 2009).

Because most hearing-impaired children now benefit from early identification and intervention, their pure-tone hearing threshold averages (PTA or HFTPA) might not be the best predictors of speech and language abilities in every-day situations.  Rather, a measure that combines degree of hearing loss as well as hearing aid characteristics might be a better predictor of speech and language ability in hearing-impaired children.  The Speech Intelligibility Index (SII; ANSI,2007), a measure of audibility that computes  the importance of different frequency regions based on the phonemic content of a given speech test, has proven to be predictive of performance on speech perception tasks for adults and children (Dubno et al., 1989; Pavlovic et al., 1986; Stelmachowicz et al., 2000).  Hearing aid gain characteristics can be incorporated into the SII algorithm to yield an aided SII, which has been reported to predict performance on word repetition (Magnusson et al., 2001) and nonsense syllable repetition ability in adults (Souza & Turner, 1999).  Because an aided SII includes the individual’s hearing loss and hearing aid characteristics into the calculations, it better represents how audibility affects an individual’s daily functioning.

The purpose of the current study was to evaluate the aided SII as a predictor of performance on measures of word recognition, phonological working memory, receptive vocabulary, and word learning.  Because development in these areas establishes a base for later achievements in language learning and reading (Tomasello, 2000; Stanovich, 1986), it is important to determine how audibility affects lexical development in hearing-impaired children.  Though the SII is usually calculated based on the particular speech test to be studied, the current investigation used aided SII values based on average speech spectra.  The authors explained that vocabulary acquisition is a cumulative process, and they intended to use the aided SII as a measure of cumulative, rather than test-specific, audibility.

Sixteen hearing-impaired children with hearing aids (CHA) and 24 children with normal hearing (CNH) between six and nine years of age participated in the study.  All of the hearing-impaired children had bilateral hearing loss and had used amplification for at least one year.  All participants used spoken language as their primary form of communication.  Real-ear measurements were used to calculate the aided SII at user settings.  Because the goal was to evaluate the children’s actual audibility as opposed to optimal audibility, their current user settings were used in the experiment whether or not they met DSL prescriptive targets (Scollie et al., 2005).

Subjects participated in tasks designed to assess four lexical domains.  Word recognition was measured by the Lexical Neighborhood Test and Multisyllabic Lexical Neighborhood Test (LNT and MLNT; Kirk & Pisoni, 2000).  These tests each contain “easy” and “hard” lists, based on how frequently the words occur in English and how many lexical neighbors they have.  Children with normal lexical development are expected to show a gradient in performance with the best scores on the easy MLNT and poorest scores on the hard LNT.  Non-word repetition was measured by a task prepared specifically for this study, using non-words selected based on adult ratings of “wordlikeness”.  In the word recognition and non-word repetition tasks, children were simply asked to repeat the words that they heard.  Responses were scored according to the number of phonemes correct for both tasks.  Additionally, the LNT and MLNT tests were scored based on number of words correct.  Receptive vocabulary was measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III; Dunn & Dunn, 1997) in which the children were asked to view four images and select the one that corresponds to the presented word.  Raw scores are determined as the number of items correctly identified and norms are applied based on the subject’s age.  Novel word learning was assessed using the same stimuli from the non-word repetition task, after the children were given sentence context and visual imagery to teach them the “meaning” of the novel words.  Their ability to learn the novel words was evaluated in two ways: a production task in which they were asked to say the word when prompted by a corresponding picture and an identification task in which they were presented with an array of four items and were asked to select the item that corresponded to the word that was presented.

On the word recognition tests, the children with hearing aids (CHA) demonstrated poorer performance than the children with normal hearing (CNH) for measures of word and phoneme accuracy, though both groups demonstrated the expected gradient, with performance improving in parallel fashion from the hard LNT test through the easy MLNT test.  There was a correlation between aided SII and word recognition scores, but PTA and aided SII were equally good at predicting performance.

On the non-word repetition task, which requires auditory perception, phonological analysis, and phonological storage (Gathercole, 2006), CHA again demonstrated significantly poorer performance than CNH, and CNH performance was near ceiling levels.  PTA and aided SII scores were correlated with non-word repetition scores.  Beyond the effect of PTA, it was determined that aided SII accounted for 20% of the variance on the non-word repetition task, which was statistically significant.

The receptive vocabulary test yielded similar results; CHA performed significantly worse than CNH and both PTA and aided SII accounted for a significant proportion of the variance.

The only variable that predicted performance on the word learning tasks was age, which only yielded a significant effect on the word production task.  On the word identification task, both the CHA and CNH groups scored only slightly better than chance and there were no significant effects of group or age.

As was expected in this study, children with hearing aids (CHA) consistently showed poorer performance than children with normal hearing (CNH), with the exception of the novel word learning task.  The pattern of results suggests that aided audibility, as measured by the aided SII, was better at predicting performance than degree of hearing loss as measured by PTA.  Greater aided SII scores were consistently associated with more accurate word recognition, more accurate non-word repetition, and larger receptive vocabulary.

Although PTA or HFPTA may represent the degree of unaided hearing loss, because the aided SII score accounts for the contribution of the individual’s hearing aids, it is likely a better representation of speech audibility and auditory perception in everyday situations.  The authors point out that depending on the audiometric configuration and hearing aid characteristics, two individuals with the same PTA could have different aided SIIs, and therefore different auditory experiences.

The results of this study underscore the importance of audibility for lexical development, which in turn has significant implications for further development of language, reading, and academic skills.  Therefore, the early provision of audibility via appropriate and verifiable amplification appears to be an important step in the development of speech and language.  The SII, which is already incorporated into some real-ear systems or is available in a standalone software package, is a verification tool that should be considered a standard part of the fitting protocol for pediatric hearing aid patients.



American National Standards Institute (2007). Methods for calculation of the Speech Intelligibility index (ANSI S3.5-1997[R2007]). New York, NY: Author.

Amos, N.E. & Humes, L.E. (2007). Contribution of high frequencies to speech recognition in quiet and noise in listeners with varying degrees of high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 50, 819-834.

Briscoe, J., Bishop, D.V. & Norbury, C.F. (2001). Phonological processing, language and literacy: a comparison of children with mild-to-moderate sensorineural hearing loss and those with specific language impairment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 42, 329-340.

Davis, J.M., Elfenbein, J., Schum, R. & Bentler, R.A. (1986). Effects of mild and moderate hearing impairments on language, educational and psychosocial behavior of children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders 51, 53-62.

Delage, H. & Tuller, L. (2007). Language development and mild-to-moderate hearing loss: Does language normalize with age? Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 50, 1300-1313.

Dubno, J.R., Dirks, D.D. & Schaefer, A.B. (1989). Stop-consonant recognition for normal hearing listeners and listeners with high-frequency hearing loss. II: Articulation index predictions. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 85, 355-364.

Dunn, L.M. & Dunn, D.M. (1997). Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test – III. Circle Pines, MN: AGS.

Fitzpatrick, E., Durieux-Smith, A., Eriks-Brophy, A., Olds., J. & Gaines, R. (2007). The impact of newborn hearing screening on communications development. Journal of Medical Screening 14, 123-131.

Fletcher, H. (1929). Speech and hearing in communication. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Gilbertson, M. & Kamhi, A.G. (1995). Novel word learning in children with hearing impairment. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 38, 630-642.

Glista, D., Scollie, S., Bagatto, M., Seewald, R., Parsa, V. & Johnson, A. (2009). Evaluation of nonlinear frequency compression: Clinical outcomes. International Journal of Audiology 48, 632-644.

Kirk, K.I. & Pisoni, D.B. (2000). Lexical Neighborhood Tests. St. Louis, MO:AudiTEC.

Magnusson, L., Karlsson, M. & Leijon, A. (2001). Predicted and measured speech recognition performance in noise with linear amplification. Ear and Hearing 22, 46-57.

Moeller, M.P. (2000). Early intervention and language development in children who are deaf and hard of hearing. Pediatrics 106, e43.

Norbury, C.F., Bishop, D.V. & Briscoe, J. (2001). Production of English finite verb morphology: A comparison of SLI and mild-moderate hearing impairment. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 44, 165-178.

Pavlovic, C.V., Studebaker, G.A. & Sherbecoe, R.L. (1986). An articulation index based procedure for predicting the speech recognition performance of hearing-impaired individuals. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 80, 50-57.

Scollie, S.D., Seewald, R., Cornelisse, L., Moodie, S., Bagatto, M., Laurnagary, D. & Pumford, J. (2005). The desired sensation level multistage input/output algorithm. Trends in Amplification 9(4), 159-197.

Souza, P.E. & Turner, C.W. (1999). Quantifying the contribution of audibility to recognition of compression-amplified speech. Ear and Hearing 20, 12-20.

Stanovich, K.E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly 21, 360-407.

Stelmachowicz, P.G., Hoover, B.M., Lewis, D.E., Kortekaas, R.W. & Pittman, A.L. (2000). The relation between stimulus context, speech audibility and perception for normal hearing and hearing-impaired children. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 43, 902-914.

Stelmachowicz, P.G., Pittman, A.L., Hoover, B.M. & Lewis, D.E. (2004 ). Novel word learning in children with normal hearing and hearing loss. Ear and Hearing 25, 47-56.

Tomasello, M. (2000). The item-based nature of children’s early syntactic development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4, 156-163.

Wake, M., Poulakis, Z., Hughes, E.K., Carey-Sargeant, C. & Rickards, F.W. (2005). Hearing impairment: A population study of age at diagnosis, severity and language outcomes at 7-8 years. Archives of Disease in Childhood 90, 238-244.


The Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI): A New and Improved way to Evaluate Tinnitus

Meikle, M.B., Henry, J.A., Griest, S.E., Stewart, B.J., Abrams, H.B., McArdle, R., Myers, P.J., Newman, C.W., Sandridge, S., Turk, D.C., Folmer, R.L., Frederick, E.J., House, J.W., Jacobson, G.P., Kinney, S.E., Martin, W.H., Nagler, S.M., Reich, G.E., Searchfield, G., Sweetow, R. & Vernon, J.A. (2012). The Tinnitus Functional Index:  Development of a new clinical measure for chronic, intrusive tinnitus. Ear & Hearing 33(2), 153-176.

This editorial discusses the clinical implications of an independent research study and does not represent the opinions of the original authors.

The practice of clinical audiology can arguably be described as having two primary goals: the diagnosis of auditory and vestibular disorders, followed by verifiable, effective treatment and rehabilitation. There are well established, objective diagnostic tests for hearing and vestibular disorders and their treatment methods can be verified with objective and subjective tools. The evaluation and treatment of tinnitus, though equally important, is more complicated. There are test protocols for matching perceived tinnitus characteristics, but the impact of tinnitus on the individual must be measured subjectively with self-assessment questionnaires.  There are several published questionnaires to evaluate tinnitus severity and the impact it has on an individual’s activities, emotions and relationships. However, most of these questionnaires were not designed specifically to measure the effect of tinnitus treatments (Kamalski et al., 2010), so their value as follow-up measures is unknown.

Tinnitus affects as many as 50 million Americans and can have disabling effects including: sleep interference, difficulty concentrating and attending, anxiety, frustration and depression (for review see Tyler & Baker, 1983; Stouffer & Tyler, 1990; Axelsson, 1992; Meikle 1992; Dobie, 2004b). There are numerous methods of treatment available, including hearing aids, tinnitus maskers, tinnitus retraining therapy, biofeedback, counseling and others. Because there is currently no standard assessment tool to evaluate tinnitus treatment outcomes, the effectiveness of tinnitus treatment methods is difficult to verify and compare. The Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI) was developed as a collaborative effort among researchers and clinicians to develop a validated, standard questionnaire that can be used clinically for intake assessments and follow-up measurements and in the laboratory as a way of comparing treatment efficacy and identifying subject characteristics.

The developers of the TFI aimed for this inventory to be used in three ways:

1. As an intake evaluation tool to identify individual differences in tinnitus patients.
2. As a reliable and valid measurement of multiple domains of tinnitus severity.
3. As an outcome measure to assess treatment-related change in tinnitus.

The study, supported by a grant from the Tinnitus Research Consortium (TRC), had three stages. The first stage involved consultation with 21 tinnitus experts, including audiologists, otologists and hearing researchers. The panel of experts evaluated 175 items from nine previously published tinnitus questionnaires and judged them based on their relevance to 10 tinnitus negative impact domains as well as their expected responsiveness, or ability to measure treatment-related improvement. After analyzing the content validity, relevance and potential responsiveness of the 175 items (Haynes et al., 1995), 43 items were selected for the first questionnaire prototype. The TRC initially required that 10 domains of negative tinnitus impact be covered by the TFI but this expert panel added three additional domains so that the first prototype of the TFI covered 13 domains of tinnitus impact. The TRC also recommended avoiding overly negative items (such as those referring to suicidal thoughts or feeling victimized or helpless), items referring to hearing loss without mentioning tinnitus and items referring to more than one subtopic. Each domain had at least three or four items, based on recommendations for achieving adequate reliability (Fabrigar et al., 1999; Moran et al., 2001).  Each questionnaire item probed respondents for a rating on a scale of 0 to 10, based on how they experienced their tinnitus “over the past week”. For example, a typical question read, “Over the past week, how easy was it for you to cope with your tinnitus?” with potential responses from 0 being “very easy to cope” and 10 being “impossible to cope”.

During the second stage of the study, TFI Prototype 1 was tested on 326 tinnitus patients at five independent clinical sites.  The goals for the second stage were to determine the responsiveness of items or their ability to reflect changes in tinnitus status, to evaluate the 13 tinnitus impact domains and to determine the TFI’s ability to scale tinnitus severity. The questionnaire was administered at the initial intake assessment, after 3 months and after 6 months.  In addition to completing the TFI, at the initial encounter the subjects completed a brief tinnitus history questionnaire, The Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI; Newman et al., 1996) and the Beck Depression Inventory-Primary Care (BDEI-PC; Beck et al., 1997).  The TFI was re-administered to 65 subjects after 3 months and again to 42 subjects after 6 months.

The researchers found that subjects had very few problems responding to the 43 selected items and that most questionnaires were fully completed. There were no floor or ceiling effects, indicating that there were no items for which responses clustered at either end of the scale, reducing the potential responsiveness of the item.  The TFI had very high convergent validity, which means it agreed well with other published scales of tinnitus severity, such as the THI.  There were large effect sizes, demonstrating that the Prototype 1 items had good responsiveness for treatment-related change and supporting use of the TFI as an outcome measure. Factor analysis of the 13 initial tinnitus impact domains yielded 8 clearly structured domains, which were retained for the second prototype.

The third stage of the study involved development and evaluation of TFI Prototype 2, which was modified based on validity and reliability measurements from the first prototype. Prototype 2 included the 30 best-functioning items from the first version, categorized according to 8 tinnitus impact domains. It was administered to 347 new participants at the initial assessment. Follow-up data were obtained from 155 participants after 3 months and from 85 participants after 6-months. Encouragingly, the results from clinical evaluation of Prototype 2 again showed good performance for all of the validity and reliability measurements, supporting its use for scaling tinnitus severity.

The best performing items from Prototype 2 were used to create the final version of the TFI, which contains 25 items in 8 domains or sub-scales: Intrusive, Sense of Control, Cognitive, Sleep, Auditory, Relaxation, Quality of Life and Emotional. Seven of the domains contain 3 items and the Quality of Life domain contains 4 items.

When used during the initial assessment, the TFI categorizes tinnitus severity according to five levels: not a problem, a small problem, a moderate problem, a big problem or a very big problem.  As a screening tool, this allows a clinician to determine the overall severity of the tinnitus to help formulate a treatment plan and consider whether referrals to other clinical professionals are needed. For example, an individual who scores in the “not a problem” level may require only brief reassurance and counseling and may be asked to follow-up only if symptoms progress. In contrast, an individual who scores in the “big problem” or “very big problem” categories will likely need referrals for additional diagnostic and therapeutic services right away.

The developers of the TFI acknowledge that their study is preliminary and more research is needed to determine the TFI’s value as an outcome measurement tool. However, based on their analyses they recommend that a change in TFI score of 13 should be considered meaningful. In other words, a decrease of 13 or more indicates an improvement based on treatment recommendations or an increase in 13 or more indicates a significant exacerbation of symptoms.

Most tinnitus self-report questionnaires were designed to assess tinnitus impact but do not specifically measure treatment outcomes. The Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI; Newman et al., 1996), however, has shown some promise as an initial evaluation tool and as a way to measure treatment outcome.  After formulation of the final version of the TFI, the effect sizes of the TFI were compared to the THI. Overall, the TFI had greater responsiveness, indicating that it could potentially yield statistically significant differences with fewer subjects than the THI would require. Evaluation of subs-scale domains yielded some differences between the TFI and THI, primarily related to the “Catastrophic” subscale of the THI. Most of these items were not included in the TFI, based on the TRC’s recommendations to avoid questions dealing with negative ideation. The TRC recommended against inclusion of items relating to despair inability to escape tinnitus and fear of having a terrible disease, because they may suggest to people with mild tinnitus that they will eventually have these concerns, creating feelings of negativity before treatment has started.  Because these items on the THI correlated only moderately with the more neutrally worded items on the TFI, the authors suggested that the THI Catastrophic subscale might measure a different severity domain than the TFI and may be useful in combination with the THI as an outcome measure.

The Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI), like other previously published tinnitus questionnaires, shows promise as a tool to measure and classify tinnitus severity. It is easy for respondents to understand the test items and can be administered briefly at or prior to the initial appointment. An additional benefit of the TFI appears to be its validity as an outcome measure of treatment effectiveness. This is critically important for guiding clinical decisions and modifying ongoing treatment plans. It also suggests that the TFI could be useful in laboratory research as a standardized way to evaluate and compare tinnitus treatment methods or to identify subject characteristics for inclusion in treatment groups. For instance, if a treatment is expected to affect the negative emotional impact of tinnitus more than the functional impact, the TFI could be useful in identifying appropriate subject candidates who are experiencing strong emotional reactions to their tinnitus. The Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI) is one of the most systematically validated methods of assessing a patient’s reaction to their tinnitus. Ease of application and interpretation place the TFI among the most compelling assessment options for clinicians working with tinnitus patients.

If you would like to use the TFI. It is now available on a website posted by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). OHSU owns the copyright to the TFI and permission is required by OHSU to use the TFI. The request form takes 3 minutes to complete and allows you access to the TFI form and instructions. You will then be able to use the TFI with no fee.


Axelsson, A. (1992). Conclusion to Panel Discussion on Evaluation of Tinnitus Treatments. In J.M. Aran & R. Dauman (Eds) Tinnitus 91. Proceedings of the Fourth International Tinnitus Seminar (pp. 453-455). New York, NY: Kugler Publications.

Beck, A.T., Guth, D. & Steer, R.A. (1997). Screening for major depression disorders in medical in patients with the Beck Depression Inventory for Primary Care. Behavioral Research and Therapy 35, 785-791.

Dobie, R.A. (2004b). Overview: Suffering From Tinnitus. In J.B. Snow (Ed) Tinnitus: Theory and Management (pp.1-7). Lewiston, NY: BC Decker Inc.

Fabrigar, L.R., Wegeners, D.T. & MacCallum, R.C. (1999). Evaluating the use of exploratory factor analysis in psychological research. Psychological Methods 4, 272-299.

Kamalski, D.M., Hoekstra, C.E. & VanZanten, B.G. (2010). Measuring disease-specific health-related quality of life to evaluate treatment outcomes in tinnitus patients: A systematic review. Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery 143, 181-185.

Meikle, M.B. (1992). Methods for Evaluation of Tinnitus Relief Procedures. In J.M. Aran & R. Dauman (Eds.) Tinnitus 91: Proceedings of the Fourth International Tinnitus Seminar (pp. 555-562). New York, NY: Kugler Publications.

Meikle, M.B., Henry, J.A., Griest, S.E., Stewart, B.J., Abrams, H.B., McArdle, R., Myers, P.J., Newman, C.W., Sandridge, S., Turk, D.C., Folmer, R.L., Frederick, E.J., House, J.W., Jacobson, G.P., Kinney, S.E., Martin, W.H., Nagler, S.M., Reich, G.E., Searchfield, G., Sweetow, R. & Vernon, J.A. (2012). The Tinnitus Functional Index:  Development of a new clinical measure for chronic, intrusive tinnitus. Ear & Hearing 33(2), 153-176.

Moran, L.A., Guyatt, G.H. & Norman, G.R. (2001). Establishing the minimal number of items for a responsive, valid, health-related quality of life instrument. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 54, 571-579.

Newman, C.W., Jacobson, G.P. & Spitzer, J.B. (1996). Development of the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory. Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery 122, 143-148.

Stouffer, J.L. & Tyler, R. (1990). Characterization of tinnitus by tinnitus patients. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders 55, 439-453.

Tyler, R. & Baker, L.J. (1983). Difficulties experienced by tinnitus sufferers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders 48, 150-154.