From L to R: Carrie Morris, Au.D., CCC-A, Sharon Benivegna, M.A., CCC-A,
Jennifer Ragusa, Au.D., CCC-A, Amanda Hillebrand, M.S., CCC-A, Sarah Hyde, Au.D., CCC-A
Submitted by the Midwest Hearing Centers
Technology is king. It has become the driving force in nearly all markets and is advancing exponentially. There is now an “app” for everything when just a few short years ago, no one even knew what an “app” was. We can now utilize cell phones and other wireless devices for so many purposes, and those are expanding daily. Medical devices are no different. In the world of audiology, these advances in wireless technology allow hearing aids to be more effective in a variety of environments and allow each user to integrate them into different aspects of life.
In the past, hearing aids have carried the unfortunate stigma of being considered a symbol of aging, something that does not work right, and something that is bulky, obvious, and undesirable. Hearing aids have come a long way in recent years: they’ve become smaller, more automatic, and more sophisticated in many ways. Today’s aids can be very discreet, effective, and incorporated into day-to-day life.
The demographic for using new technology has also widened. There are now capabilities aimed at integrating technology for pediatric through geriatric populations. Many people incorrectly assume that those over a certain age are incapable of using new technology; that it will be too confusing and complicated. Our experiences have found this assumption to not only be false, but unfortunately it can also limit an individual’s exposure to technology that could be exceedingly helpful.
Cell Phones and Hearing Aids
Cell phones have become a part of everyday life for many people. Unfortunately, individuals who wear hearing aids sometimes struggle with using a cellphone and feel as though they are unable to take advantage of features such as “hands-free” conversation. New wireless and Bluetooth® technology and accessories allow for the phone conversation to be streamed directly though the person’s hearing aids with much better signal processing and transmission. Not only does this improve the sound quality and volume for the listener, it provides a sense of security and safety, particularly when driving.
Among the wireless advances in hearing aids are cellphone apps developed by many of the hearing aid manufacturers and aimed at varying purposes. Some require an intermediary device to allow hearing aids to connect with the cellphone, but not all. One company has developed a method of allowing smart phones to be utilized in new, exciting ways. This new hearing aid can connect directly with some Apple devices and through an intermediary device to other companies (i.e., Android). This allows for all audio to be transmitted directly into one’s hearing aids, including phone calls, music, videos, podcasts, audio books, GPS directions, and text-to-voice capabilities (such as reading text messages and emails aloud).
Because of the processing power now available in a cellphone, there are so many more utilizations of hearing aids! One can check the hearing aid battery level, find a lost hearing aid (that is turned on), find the last GPS location your phone connected to the hearing aids, and use the microphone in the smartphone as a remote microphone. Using the cellphone in this way also allows for a sophisticated remote control that would allow for volume control, program changes, as well as treble/bass control.
A different company also has a ‘”tinnitus management” app. This app has a library of sounds aimed at helping reduce the stress of tinnitus. You can also add music files from your own library into this app. Sounds are capable of being categorized and saved based on the type of sound and the situation that you report is most useful.
One does not need to take advantage of all of these options to use hearing aids. They function independently as they always have, are still programmed to individual hearing losses, and are adjusted by an audiologist. These are just options open to allow for customization of one’s hearing aids out of the office and the ability to use them in revolutionary ways. The new technology available merely adds to what hearing aids can do, and possibly makes them more desirable and “cool.”
There is also an ever-growing range of hearing aid accessories that can make even basic devices perform better than ever and help to keep patients connected to the world.
• Remote controls: The smaller hearing aids become, the more difficult it is for the manufacturers to fit controls onto them. While cell phones can now be used as remote controls for many hearing aids, there are also devices available that allow for this function without needing a cellphone. A separate remote can maintain a discrete, small-sized, hearing aid but still allow a volume control and control of personalized programs. Some can even inform you of battery status.
• TV streaming: With the new wireless function of hearing aids, many are now able to connect wirelessly to the TV audio. This allows other listeners in the room to keep the TV at a comfortable level while the hearing aid wearer can adjust the level to accommodate their needs. The signal is also processed to accommodate specific hearing loss needs. This technology also eliminates distance as a factor for intelligibility of TV programs, as it is streamed directly.
• Rechargability: Some hearing aid wearers with manual dexterity issues have difficulty manipulating the hearing aids themselves let alone changing their batteries. Using rechargeable batteries can significantly decrease the frequency of these changes and lessen possible dependence on others to complete this task. Reduce/reuse/recycle is a mantra that is heard frequently as we all strive to protect our Earth. Rechargeable batteries also reduce the amount of batteries thrown away to help protect our environment.
• Improved understanding in noisy environments: Situations and environments with high levels of noise or distractions can be extremely difficult for hearing aid users. FM systems have been available for many years, and as hearing aid circuitry improves, so does the ease with which hearing aid users can take advantage of this valuable technology. These systems have been used mostly for children in schools; however, there has also recently been a large leap forward in utilizing this technology for adults. When using an FM system, a microphone is held or worn by the desired speaker and that signal is sent directly to the hearing aids without the interference of any ambient noise. There are microphones available that are small, sleek, and discrete. Unlike past microphones which were intrusive, distracting, and bulky. Many individuals choose to take advantage of them to improve the quality of their daily lives at home, in noise, and in the workplace. In addition to FM, there are also simpler, external, wireless, microphones that can transmit their signal directly to hearing aids. This microphone is typically clipped to a single person of interest, or set in front of an audio signal. Then this signal is heard above all others, providing much better sound quality in the presence of noise or distractions.
Technology has greatly improved in recent years allowing more people to benefit from hearing aids, and allowing current users to improve their performance with their aids. Contact an audiologist to see if your current hearing aids have any of these capabilities, discuss getting new hearing aids, or test your hearing to see if hearing aids would be appropriate for you.
For more information on Midwest Hearing Centers visit us online at mw-ent.com or contact their Peoria or Morton offices.
The Peoria office is at the OSF Center for Health. Email email@example.com or call 309-691-6616. Hours are Monday–Friday from 8–4:30 p.m. with walk-in hours for routine
hearing aid cleaning and minor repairs from 1–3 p.m. on Thursdays.
The Morton office is at 1600 S. Fourth Ave. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 309-284-0164. Hours are Monday–Friday from 8:30–4:30 p.m. with walk-in hours for routine hearing aid cleaning and minor repairs from 9–11 a.m. on Tuesdays.