Tagged: hearing loss

Free Captioned Phones for Those With Hearing Loss

November 5, 2015

Caption Call - Life is calling.

Talking on the phone can be very frustrating for someone with hearing loss. The two main reasons are that the phone doesn’t relay the full frequency range of the human voice. In fact, some of the most important speech frequencies are completely missing. The second reason is because there are no visual cues. Up until recently, there was really no way to get around these issues other than to use a speaker phone or hope that someone else was home to hand the phone to. But now, those with hearing loss have the opportunity to use a visual cue of a different sort in order to help them understand on the phone.

With the development of Captioned Telephones, a person with hearing loss can now read, word-for-word, what the caller on the other end of the line has to say. The idea is similar to that of closed captioning for the television. Closed captioning is the written version of the spoken conversation. The person with hearing loss can read the captions while listening at the same time. In the same way, the captioned telephone lets the listener read what the other person on the phone is saying in real time while working, in every other way, like a typical phone.

If you’re having trouble hearing on the phone, ask us about this new telephone technology. The captioning itself as well as the phone are provided free of charge to Washington State residents through a Federal grant.

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Do I Really Need Two Hearing Aids?

November 2, 2015

One of the more common questions I am asked as an Audiologist is whether two hearing aids are necessary. If you have hearing loss in both ears, known as bilateral hearing loss, you are more than likely to benefit from hearing aids in both ears. There are some good reasons to NOT wear hearing aids in both ears: no hearing loss in one ear, very poor hearing in one ear, very poor word understanding in one ear, for example. Your hearing healthcare provider is the best person to help you decide whether you should be wearing one hearing aid or two. Price, however, should never be a reason to wear only one hearing aid. I tell my patients I’d much rather they purchase a lower cost pair than a single high-end hearing aid, if cost is the issue. Imagine buying a Mercedes Benz and only purchasing two tires, or glasses with only one lens or only one shoe. We have two ears for a reason and there are things that the ears can do when working together that they cannot do when working alone. Let me share with you some of the reasons why two hearing aids are better than one.

Better understanding of speech
By wearing two hearing aids instead of just one, you may notice you can better focus in on one speaker in a difficult listening situation where multiple people are talking at the same time. In other words, your brain can focus in on the conversation you want to hear. Research shows that wearing two hearing aids significantly improves speech understanding in noise compared to people who wear only one hearing aid.

Better ability to tell where sounds are coming from
Being able to tell where sounds are coming from is called localization and is one of the more important functions of binaural hearing. Suppose you drop something on the floor and it rolls away from you. Equal hearing between the ears will allow you to better determine where the object you dropped actually went. More importantly, localization helps you determine from which direction a siren is coming in traffic. Localization can be very important to your safety.

Better sound quality
When sound enters the ears and is then passed up the hearing system to the brain, the brain completes what is called binaural summation. Binaural summation means that sound is actually much louder than the sum of the individual ears once it is processed by the brain. For a simple word picture to explain this: one plus one does not equal two when we’re talking about binaural sound processing in the brain, it’s more like one plus one equals three and a half. This summation improves the volume of the sound but also gives the perception of “stereo” sound quality. By wearing two hearing aids, you also increase your hearing range from 180 degrees reception with just one amplified ear to 360 degrees (surround sound).

Keep both ears active
Research has shown that when only one hearing aid is worn, the ear without a hearing aid tends to lose its ability understand clearly. This is the old adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” In Audiology, we call this auditory deprivation. Wearing two hearing aids is important in order to keep both ears active.

When most of my patients ask if they can “get by” with one hearing aid, my answer is yes, you can “get by”. But it’s not the best solution for most hearing losses and can often aggravate some of the more common reasons for getting a hearing aid in the first place, like wanting to hear better in noise. Before you decide on one hearing aid, try two. I’m positive you’ll be convinced that two is better than one.


October 26, 2015

Am I Losing My Mind?

Have you noticed it takes a little longer lately to understand what someone is saying? Is your response usually “What?” Then, a few seconds later it’s as if a light switch turns on, something clicks, and it suddenly makes sense. When you have hearing loss, asking someone to repeat themselves can become a habit. But what if the lack of understanding is a slowdown in how the brain is working, or even short-term memory loss?

A common question patients ask is if hearing loss and memory loss are related. New research from Johns Hopkins University and National Institute on Aging (Archives of Neurology, Feb 2011) found that seniors with hearing loss were much more likely to develop dementia over time. The greater the hearing loss, the stronger the relationship. It is hypothesized that the lack of consistent language stimulation is a major contributor to dementia. I call this “the use it or lose it law.”

Hearing loss happens so gradually you may not even recognize it. In fact, someone else may have recognized it before you did. During those years your hearing was declining, it may be that your brain was not receiving the full stimulation it needed, and therefore, began to deteriorate.

The Johns Hopkins study doesn’t answer the question of whether hearing loss might be a cause of dementia or if hearing loss simply accompanies dementia. It also doesn’t answer the question of whether hearing aids might be able to decrease the likelihood of dementia.

It seems clear that once you have recognized that a hearing loss exists, the next best step is to start using hearing aids. Why risk it? Make sure you are hearing your loved ones, and your brain is staying stimulated. There are so many things we can’t control, but this is a no-brainer. Do something that not only improves your everyday quality of life, but has the potential to increase your brain’s ability to make sense of words far into the future. Make an appointment today and invest in your future.

Accessories That Connect To Hearing Aids

October 5, 2015

One of the few down sides to wearing most hearing aid styles is that you can’t put anything ELSE in your ears at the same time. This means no ear-level Bluetooth pieces, no iPod or MP3 player earbuds, and often no headsets for listening to TV. Consumers have been asking for a solution, and finally manufacturers are listening. Now there are ways to connect to the audio gadget of your choice without first having to remove your hearing aid. Most use Bluetooth® technology or in some way connect via Bluetooth.

What is Bluetooth?
Put simply, Bluetooth technology is a short-range wireless radio technology that allows electronic devices to securely connect to one another without wires.

How Does Bluetooth Work With Hearing Aids?
Bluetooth allows hearing aids to communicate with hands-free devices, such as a music player and cell phone. It can also be used with accessories that act as transmitters to take information from non-Bluetooth audio devices, such as a TV or stereo system, and send it to the hearing aids using the same Bluetooth technology. These accessories are manufacturer-specific and are an optional extra accompanying the hearing aid purchase. Accessories range in price from $100 to $400 each. In addition, Bluetooth allows the audio signal to be altered through the hearing aid programming to better suit the listeners hearing needs, while also allowing the two hearing aids to communicate with one another, permitting a more “hands free” hearing experience.

What Are Some Examples?
The hearing aid manufacturer Oticon uses Bluetooth in their Streamer device. The Streamer, worn around the neck, is paired with the hearing aids and then the audio devices you want to use. The Streamer is not a true Bluetooth system in that it uses the hearing aid’s internal T-coil to communicate with the hearing aids. This requires that the Streamer be worn around the neck to pick up the audio signal. Although this means the wearer is essentially tied to the accessory device, the Streamer allows for direct streaming of a Bluetooth audio signal to the hearing aids without first removing the hearing aids. Oticon also sells a line of products under their ConnectLine brand, which includes an adapter for non-Bluetooth audio signals from televisions and landline phones.

Phonak uses a device called the iCom, which operates similarly to the Streamer. It also uses induction to the hearing aid T-coil with a device that is worn around the neck. The iCom allows for connection of up to five different audio devices. This allows the listener to listen to the TV, using the Phonak TV accessory, switch easily to an incoming cell phone call, then resume with the TV audio after the call is finished. Seimens uses Tek Connect, which is similar to the Streamer and iCom accessories.

The next generation of truly wireless connectivity is now available in several hearing aids. ReSound’s Alera hearing aids can use the Unite accessories to connect to TV and cell phone without the use of a neck-worn accessory. The Alera and Unite accessories are the first truly hands-free Bluetooth hearing aid devices.

Starkey also has a hands-free Bluetooth device in its Wi line. At the moment, the Bluetooth technology is only available for streaming TV audio through its SurfLink accessory. The streaming rate, however, is extremely fast which means there is no lag-time between what the viewer sees on screen and what is heard at ear-level, which is often noticeable in some of the other products.

The newest wireless hearing aid on the market is the Widex Clear. Currently it is only available in the standard Behind-The-Ear and Receiver-In-The-Canal styles. WidexLink is used to transmit sound from external devices to the hearing aids when watching TV, talking on the mobile phone or listening to music. This is done by way of an external transmitting device. The TV-DEX is used for TV streaming and the M-DEX is used for streaming cell phone audio to the hearing aids.

Other companies are getting into the Bluetooth accessory race, as well. For example, Nokia has introduced a wireless loopset that allows users with T-coil equipped hearing aids to have a connection to their cell phones. The loopset allows for a wide range of control from control of volume and also volume range and frequency. Many cell phone carriers are now offering Bluetooth accessories for hands-free cell phone use. Check with your carrier’s website for availability.

What Should I Think About Before I Buy?
First, talk things over with your audiologist. By working together, you can determine whether or not new hearing aids would be a good fit for you.

Also, consider your lifestyle. Are you a gadget person? Is music a big part of your life or would you like to enjoy music more often? Does your state require hands-free cell phone use? Is the TV volume too loud for others? If so, Bluetooth accessories are a great way to combat these listening issues.

Be aware that there are a few downsides to Bluetooth accessories: You’ll need to keep track of not only the hearing aids, but also another accessory in most cases. You’ll also need to remember to keep the accessory charged. In addition, you may need to upgrade your gadgets (cell phone and music player) for Bluetooth compatibility. Remember that your audiologist is your best ally. You may need to make a few extra visits to ensure everything is properly paired and that you understand how everything works, but ultimately, a hands-free experience can give you a new-found freedom for listening to the sounds of life that you may have been missing.

Learning to Listen Just Got Easier

September 21, 2015

When you have trouble hearing, the trouble doesn’t just stem from hearing loss or damage to the actual mechanical parts of the ear – the outer, middle and inner ear. Instead, for most people who have hearing loss, there can also be a loss of the cognitive (brain) function due to the old adage, “if you don’t use it you lose it.”

When you have hearing loss, there can be changes that occur in the auditory processing center of the brain because it isn’t receiving the full stimulation that it would have if the system was working normally. So, even with a very good hearing aid that reduces noise and improves the clarity of speech, it’s possible to feel like you still have more trouble understanding a conversation in a restaurant or at a dinner party than others seem to be having. To cope, you may find yourself doing the “smile and nod,” pretending you understood when in actuality, you missed the majority of the conversation.

It would be easy to be upset at your audiologist for selling you a shoddy pair of hearing aids or convincing yourself that “hearing aids just don’t work.” The truth is, hearing aids don’t solve the trouble of hearing in noise. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly helps, but hearing aids are a tool. When used correctly and when programmed appropriately, they are a fantastic tool. But the other part of the equation is working on the way the brain uses the information coming through the system. Making the brain a more effective listener and learning other tools to help you listen more efficiently is really the key to benefiting the greatest from better hearing.

In order to train the brain to be a more efficient listener, audiologists have used auditory training programs with their patients. These programs can be time consuming and not cost effective. But one program, called Listening and Communication Enhancement Training (LACE), developed at University of California, San Francisco by Dr. Robert Sweetow, is a home-based training program that is less costly and easily completed on your home PC. It has had great success in the past few years, helping those with hearing loss, with and without hearing aids, learn to listen with their brains.

Just recently, Neurotone, the producers of LACE have developed an on-line version of the program. Now, this easy-to-use auditory training program can be accessed from any PC with internet access or from any smart phone, iPad or tablet. The internet version isn’t as extensive as the regular LACE program, but it’s less expensive and may be a better choice for the person who travels or may have difficulty accessing the same computer on a regular basis.

The research is clear – hearing aids aren’t the only answer. They ARE a good way to make hearing easier and speech more clear. But alongside a good auditory training program, such as LACE, the hearing aid wearer can dramatically improve their ability to hear in a noisy situation. One research article suggests that the improvement in speech understanding in noise can be as much as 40%!

If you haven’t tried LACE training, talk to your Audiologist about the program. You can’t go wrong. The investment will be worth it and you’ll be happier with your hearing aids in the long run.