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Innovative VR Games Help Deaf Children in UK Understand Speech

Scientists in the UK have developed VR computer games to assist profoundly deaf children in restoring their hearing abilities, the Guardian reported yesterday.

The project, known as Bears (Both Ears), aims to help youngsters who have received twin cochlear implants due to being born with little to no hearing, the article mentioned.

“These children require major interventions to regain their hearing, and we have found that computer games can significantly improve the effectiveness of these treatments,” explained audio engineer Lorenzo Picinali, a scientist from Imperial College London involved in the project.

One game has players operating a virtual food stall, earning points by completing orders from cartoon characters that become increasingly complex and come from different directions, accompanied by louder and more confusing background noises. “It’s very challenging, but the game improves the child’s ability to localize sound, which in turn helps them understand speech better,” Picinali added.

Unlike hearing aids that merely amplify sounds, cochlear implants translate air vibrations into electrical signals transmitted to the brain. However, these signals can be confusing and distorted, making it difficult for users to adapt.

The Bears project, led by researchers from Cambridge University and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, will recruit over 300 children with hearing difficulties in comprehensive clinical trials, the article mentioned.

It added that the project’s goal is not only to aid those with cochlear implants but also to potentially benefit the hearing of all 50,000 deaf children in the UK, regardless of the cause of their deafness.

“What we are doing is helping them remap their hearing systems,” Picinali concluded, “which could make a major difference in the lives of thousands of children.”

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