What’s relevant to me, what’s not?
“Growing old gracefully” takes more than a mellow attitude. It increasingly means adapting to new habits, and helpful gadgets. There is now a bewildering array of such technology for people with hearing loss.
“Do I need the smallest aid?”, “does Bluetooth help?, “What’s best for me – I just want to hear TV and a few friends more clearly?” “What about me – I need good clarity when meeting with business partners in city cafés?”.
This guide aims to simplify your choice of hearing aids and their features. How the sound is directed into your ears is also an important choice e.g. in-the-ear, behind the ear, silicone or custom ear mould. Rather than detail these though, the guide deals only with the “invisible” factors i.e. the many ways hearing technology analyses, treats and amplifies day to day sounds.
Where to start? As Audiologists we first consider your degree of hearing loss, what you’ve told us about your lifestyle and hearing needs. Matching technology to these usually results in many choices, not just one. You can get a sense of these from clear explanations, your reading and/or a practical trial. The ACCC, Hearing Services Program and other websites also offer guides for selecting hearing aids. Where possible, try to gain objective advice about the known outcomes amongst large numbers of people. The comments of people you know (or online) can be useful, but not always relevant to your case. In particular, be wary of the logic “this was very bad/good for me, so it should be for you too!”
For many the choice is fairly simple e.g. hearing more clearly in a quiet room can be achieved by most all devices available in Australia.
On the other hand, competing noise makes it hard to follow speech, even for people with normal hearing. Technology can’t completely resolve this, however there are now some very effective tools available.
It’s important to tell your Audiologist;
How much background noise there is, and
How often you’re in those situations – or would like to be, more than now.
These details can help a choice of i) microphone directionality i.e. more or less focus on a target speaker vs others in the 360 degree space around you; and ii) automaticity i.e. how active the aid will be to identify speech vs noise, then modify the overall sound for clarity and comfort. Once chosen, these functions can be fine-tuned when the Audiologist connects your hearing aids to a computer (or when you are at home, if your aids can be linked to the clinic via your mobile phone).
In other cases, you may be helped by a specific or higher level feature in the model you choose. These include: tinnitus masking, compensation for very poor high pitch hearing loss, management of sudden loud sounds, reduced noise in wind, comfort in an echoey room, clarity in a car, conversation while walking. For lectures, meetings or optimal 1:1 conversation in noise, a “remote” bluetooth microphone can make a big difference. If hearing the landline, doorbell and other household fixtures is your concern, please query the current best practice.
Volume controls, remote controls and mobile phone app’s can all help you manage your amplified hearing. Several app’s now allow you to change the level of speech and/or background noise. You can have hands-free mobile calls in both ears at once, thanks to Bluetooth compatibility. The balance of sound between the phone call and outside sounds can be adjusted for more or less awareness of environmental sounds. Streaming of the TV audio into your hearing aids is highly effective – the sound is tuned to your hearing levels, maintains a good treble-bass balance over distance and your volume control is independent of other viewer’s. Music, computer audio, podcasts, talking books etc can also be streamed directly into your hearing aids.
Tailoring the sound for your key moments is another option e.g. “Jane’s dining room”, “Men’s Shed”, “shopping centre”, “outdoor concert”, “grandkids voices”. Two ways to do this – i) have your Audiologist create a (button activated) program in your hearing aid; and/or ii) create and name your own, using the sound adjusters on a mobile phone app.
No matter how informed your choices are, one assumption underlies – technology isn’t the only help needed. For example, it will always be important to have a view of the speaker’s face. If it’s possible to reduce background noise at home, that will help as well. A key part of that is replacing hard with soft surfaces e.g. rugs, curtains, acoustic tiles. Don’t expect great clarity while cooking either, as boiling, frying and fan sounds all mask speech. In short, it’s as important to review your habits as it is to choose your technology options.
It’s a lot to take in. Restricting your “homework” to just your needs will help. A consultation with a knowledgeable, plain speaking Audiologist Perth will ensure your choice is clear and up to date.