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December 23, 2002

Technology provides lifestyle enhancing options

From: Baltimore Business Journal - 23 Dec 2002

W. Stephen Seipp


"Stop that mumbling."

"No, I didn't hear the phone ring."

"Turn that TV up. I don't know how you can hear a thing they're saying ...."

If any of these comments sounds familiar, you may be encountering a person with a hearing loss ... a person who may or may not even know it. And, to make matters worse, the person with the hearing loss may be mishearing very important conversations in business meetings, doctors' offices, hospitals, and court rooms — conversations that could have significant impact on the individual and his or her family.

It doesn't have to be that way!

What many people do not know, including those with hearing aids, is that technology has changed so much in the past few years that there are now many devices and instruments that can dramatically enhance the quality of life for those with hearing loss (and those who live or work with them) — from infants who have never spoken a word (infants whose development of speech-language skills is dependent on hearing) to centenarians and everyone in between.

Specifically, digital technology has revolutionized hearing aids. The new hearing aids are programmed using a computer that allows the audiologist to fine-tune the prescription for each ear, depending upon the patient's type and degree of hearing loss. And, unlike traditional hearing aids, these new digital hearing aids allow the audiologist to take into account the patient's lifestyle, environment and the degree of background noise that may affect the purity of the amplified sounds, among other factors.

For instance, if the patient is a home-body and the television is very important, then the hearing aids can be programmed one way; in contrast, if a patient with an identical hearing loss is very active socially, often in noisy environments such as restaurants and parties, the audiologist can accommodate for this through the programming. The result of such sophisticated technology is simple: happier patients who say the amplified sound is better than ever, with many of them feeling as if their natural hearing has been restored in most listening environments.

In addition to hearing aids, there are many other options for people to use. Such devices are referred to as "assistive listening" devices. Many people have associated such devices in years past with the deaf. With an improvement in technology, prices have dropped, and more options are available in each of four categories of devices: alerting, telecommunication, amplification, and decoding (the captions on television programs).

Alerting devices are just that — they provide cues that indicate a ringing door bell, alarm clock, smoke alarm, or even a baby's cry. Most alerting devices either flash lights, vibrate, or both. Telecommunication devices include TDDs, which allow communications via printed material over the phone lines (usually for the deaf community or those with severe hearing loss). More common are telephone amplifiers, which simply make the regular phone louder so voices are more easily understood. Some of these are "portable," so they can be used on phones at other locations and cell phones, too. Television amplifiers (headsets) are also effective, making it so family members are not subjected to a television that is way too loud.

A growing alternative is personal amplifiers, such as the Conversor, a wireless FM system. Such technology-based products are gaining popularity due to their versatility in a variety of listening environments — from parties to worship services.

The best part is that the microphone can be held in the hand or placed upon a suitable surface, and the receiver can be worn above or beneath clothing. They can even be used with hearing aids, cochlear implants or with binaural headsets.

For the business world, wishing to better accommodate those with impaired hearing, there are amplification systems that "loop" an entire room (such as a concert hall or conference room).

These loop systems wrap around the room to transmit amplified speech signals to the "T" coil switch that is on many hearing aids. Special receivers are also available for individuals who need amplification but do not wear hearing aids or don't have "T" switches on the hearing aids they do wear.

With or without hearing aids, however, those with hearing loss have more options than ever thanks to the technology revolution. Living uncomfortably, avoiding social settings, and mishearing in potentially life-altering conversations should now all be a thing of the past.

Technology has made such life-enhancing devices more affordable than ever, and a licensed audiologist can advise the individual of options that will suit his or her listening needs.

W. Stephen Seipp, a partner in the Hearing Assessment Center in Lutherville, can be reached at (410) 583-7021.

© 2002 American City Business Journals Inc.