21 May 2024

Thais now have a convenient choice for checking their hearing thanks to the launch of the EarTest by Eartone application, which could also help detect early dementia,

Developed mainly by a medical specialist and a university lecturer, EarTest by Eartone is now available in the Thai language thus facilitating free ear tests at home. Users just need a pair of earphones and a tablet or smartphone to get the tests done over the app.

“It took several years to develop this innovation,” said one of the developers, Dr Nattawan Utoomprurkporn, at the 14th Chula The Impact.

A hearing specialist at the Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Nattawan worked alongside Chulalongkorn University’s physics lecturer Dr Yuttana Roongthumskul in developing EarTest by Eartone.

“We have integrated virtual reality technologies in simulating a soundproof room for audiology tests,” Yuttana said, “Our research will continue to monitor the app’s effectiveness in detecting early dementia in real life.”

Early detection for timely treatments

The World Health Organization’s research show the risk of early dementia is two times higher among people with hearing problems. On a positive note, if people with hearing issues get treated early, they can stay away from dementia. In other words, early dementia that is triggered by hearing problems is preventable. In the past, access to hearing tests was limited because good labs existed in well-equipped hospitals only.

Today, with EarTest by Eartone easily available, the development of early dementia in those with hearing problems could be thwarted.

Reliable app from world-class collaboration

Nattawan revealed that EarTest by Eartone was developed under the Thai Speech Acoustic Virtual Reality Test for the Detection of Early Dementia Research Project, which won the support of many parties including the Royal Academy of Engineering of the United Kingdom, the British Council, and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science Research and Innovation (MHESI).

The royal academy has contributed via the Transforming System Through Partnership Fund, which is part of the Newton Fund. Via this academy, experts from the University College of London (UCL) and a private investor shared their knowledge and resources. MHSEI, meanwhile, has ensured other UK institutions also offered useful knowledge via the Thai-UK World Class University Consortium Project.

“To develop such an innovation, we needed both knowledge and technologies. So, it’s fortunate that UCL lecturer Professor Stuart Rosen joined this collaboration,” Nattawan said.

Rosen is a professor of Speech & Hearing Science. He has played a role in the development of ear tests in many languages.

Nattawan said prior to the EarTest by Eartone launch, it was tested among more than 100 volunteers as developers aimed to best respond to the needs of the elderly.

Preparation for aged society

Prof Dr Bundhit Eua-arporn, president of Chulalongkorn University, said the research project that delivered EarTest by Eartone was part of the preparations for Thailand’s growing elderly population. As of 2022, people aged over 60 years accounted for 18.3 per cent of all Thai citizens. Their percentage will likely rise to more than 30 per cent within the next 20 years.

“Our vision focuses not just on educational services but also on research,” Bundhit said. “We intend to produce research and innovations that can serve society on a sustainable basis.”

Dr Adisorn Tuantranont, an assistant director at the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), said his agency had funded this project because it would raise public awareness of early diagnoses that would pave the way for timely treatments and disease prevention.

“It can help prevent early dementia in the elderly,” he said, “This project is practical and contributes to Thailand’s competitiveness too.”

Assoc Prof Dr Siree Chaiseri, who heads the Program Management Unit Competitiveness (PMUC) of Office of National Higher Education Science Research and Innovation Policy Council, said EarTest by Eartone was now ready for free downloads over both ios and android systems.

“This application shows how research findings can apply to real life,” she said, “It’s also a good example of multilateral collaboration across both private and government sectors, and across territories”.

The industrial partner of this research project, Eartone Company Limited, said EarTest by Eartone was an upgraded version of the company’s original app.

‘It’s more detailed and advanced. It demonstrates higher efficiency and boasts a greater variety of functions thanks to support from Thai and foreign researchers,” an executive of the company said.