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Hearing technology reshapes what it means to have a hearing loss

Sound Advice by Ruth D. Bernstein

Ruth Bernstein, Consumer Advocate

Ruth Bernstein, Consumer Advocate

When I started wearing analog hearing aids in 1969, there was very little technology for people with hearing loss. Forty-seven years later, technology is helping to reshape what it means to have a hearing loss. This was brought home to me when I came down with the flu and could not go to the Hearing Loss Association of America Convention in Washington, D.C. in June, 2016.  I “attended” the convention from home, reading streaming CART on my iPad.

I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I am to be part of this technological revolution and how I got here. I learned to use a computer at work in the 1980s, bought my first home computer in the early 1990s, purchased an iPhone in 2012 and received an iPad as a gift from my family in 2013. With this equipment, I can communicate easily in a variety of ways.

Hearing technology through the years

Over the years, I’ve used analog and digital hearing aids made by different manufacturers. All of them had t-switches, which made it possible for me to hear on hard-wired phones and take advantage of equipment like the FM system I used at business meetings. The system came with a transmitter with a plugged-in mic and a receiver with a neck loop. The transmitter and receiver were housed in boxes that held the batteries. Each box was about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and combined were bulky and heavy to tote around in my pocketbook. At meetings, I gave the mic and transmitter to the speaker. I could also place the mic in a special holder in the middle of a conference table.

I graduated to digital hearing aids in 1995 and watched in awe as my CHC audiologist programmed them, using a computer which translated the results of my latest audiogram into the settings on my aids.  My settings always have to be tweaked because, like everyone else who has a hearing loss, no two people are the same, and what works for other people does not necessarily work for me. In addition to an updated, lighter wireless FM system, which I traveled with all over the world, I also started using a direct audio input mic. The one-inch mic was attached to a wire about the length of my arm, which plugged directly into my hearing aid. When I was in noisy situations, I held the mic in front of me and said “You’re on CNN.” People always smiled when I explained why I was using the mic.

Today’s advanced aids + accessories

I was able to use the same pair of digital aids for fifteen years, something that is very unusual. Most hearing aids last about five years. The aids I was wearing had enough power to accommodate my slowly deteriorating hearing. When it finally became necessary to find replacements, there was a problem: I became instantly nauseous when I tried stronger aids. After a long, time-consuming search by my infinitely patient CHC audiologist, Ellen Lafargue, I started using new digital aids.

  1. They come with a streamer with Bluetooth that allows me to make phone calls without difficulty.

  2. There’s a remote mic that can be clipped to the speaker’s collar or placed strategically at a dinner table so I can hear in noisy situations.

  3. The streamer can also be synced with a TV.

  4. The streamer and mic fit into a small change purse.

Smaller and lighter is definitely better!

My smartphone is always within easy reach

For a while, I owned a cell phone but barely used it because I couldn’t hear. I resisted buying a smartphone because I didn’t think I needed one.  My youngest son understood my stress level would be much lower if I could use email and text and find information I could read instead of having to ask questions and struggle to understand spoken answers. With Danny’s help, I bought an iPhone, which rapidly became an integral part of my life.

  1. Much to my surprise, the phone, which fits into the palm of my hand, lowered my anxiety level enormously because I know I can reach my family and doctor in an emergency.

  2. In addition to using Bluetooth for phone calls, I communicate easily using email and text

  3. With Apple’s Health app, I have all my emergency information – whom to call, what medications I take, what I’m allergic to, etc. – at my fingertips.

  4. Using the apps on my phone, I check the weather, bus, subway, and train schedules, read newspapers and magazines and download airline and train tickets.

  5. Instead of carrying heavy books, I discovered I could read 900 page tomes like Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” and the page turner “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doer.

  6. I take photos for pleasure, to share and for information, instead of writing notes.

My smartphone is always within easy reach!

Resources that keep me connected

While computers and smartphones are making everyday communicating easier, captioning is available on TV, at Broadway and off Broadway shows via TDF/TAP and at the movies. Streaming CART (communication access real-time translation), provided by companies like Total Caption and Globe Titles offer access to meetings, social events, weddings, funerals, plays, musicals and operas on smartphones, tablets and computers. Audio loops have been installed in many venues, including houses of worship, theaters, museums and stores.

The Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) offers weekly demonstrations of devices that can make communicating when you have a hearing loss easier and less stressful. Free group demonstrations are offered to the public every Thursday (excluding holidays) at 2:00 pm at 50 Broadway, 6th floor. Walk-ins are welcome, though it’s always best to call or email ahead to confirm.

To learn more about coping with hearing loss, consult a licensed audiologist. If you’re in the NYC area, consider making an appointment for an evaluation at the Center for Hearing and Communication, where I have received excellent care for decades.

Although technology for the hearing loss community took a while to develop, it is now moving rapidly, with new equipment, apps and methodologies appearing often. There are more and better options now than ever before, both for veterans like myself and first-time wearers. I encourage you to experience it for yourself.

For additional guidance and peer support, attend the Hearing Loss Association of America, New York City Chapter meetings, where you will hear talks by professionals and meet people who are pleased to share their everyday experiences and solutions.

Read CHC’s e-newsletter, The Buzz, regularly and check the HLAA NYC web site and Facebook pages for the latest information. Let us know how hearing loss technology has improved your life.

Thank you!

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