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March 20, 2004

Can you hear me now?

From: Ames Tribune, IA - Mar 20, 2004

By: Jayne Bullock, Staff Writer

Today's hearing aids digitally create an enhanced hearing environment

Digital technology has made life easier and more interesting in a variety of ways. Through the use of digital watches, cameras and televisions, the world is sharper, brighter and more accurate. So, it's not surprising digital technology has taken another step and is providing improved hearing.

One new hearing aid on the market is the Senso Diva by Widex. According to a press release, it's equipped with digital computer chips in the hearing aid, allowing it to think for the wearer and offer high definition hearing to adults and children who have hearing loss. Much like music evolved from vinyl records to cassette tapes to CD players, hearing aids have evolved from the analog system to one that provides clear and automatic signal processing.

Mike Smith, an audiologist at Hearing Unlimited in Ames, said he is familiar with the concept of the Diva's new circuit design.

"This is a pretty common (concept) among the manufacturers who use multi-channel and directional programs to help individuals hear," Smith said.

But what these new aids can do is detect the environment, measure the noise and reduce or eliminate environmental background babble. Once the aids have been programmed for a wearer's hearing loss, these types of aids allow the louder, closer speech sounds to be easily heard with better clarity.

Smith said there are a lot of similar products on the market through such venders as Starkey, Siemens, Odicon and others.

The Diva is probably one of the best," he said. "But there are only seven chips (available) out there, and the (vendors) are all buying out of the same place and marketing them for high-end hearing aids."

Smith said that most often he recommends Starkey or Odicon, but he can get whatever his clients want. He also can service the Divas.

John W. Reis, an audiologist at Hearing Services of Iowa for Ames, Boone and Fort Dodge, said there are four or five really good hearing aid manufacturers and devices. He, too, said the Diva is one of the good digital hearing aids. Most dispensers carry a variety of brands and he has software to program and work with Widex. However, his personal choice is Siemens.

"We have had programmable hearing aids since the early 1990s," Reis said. "It has just been in the last four or five years that the digitals have come in. I can usually fit my patients with what I use and don't have to handle the other (brands)."

Reis said back when he first started practicing, only 22 to 24 percent of those with hearing problems were wearing amplification. And that number hasn't changed much.

Reis said it is hard to convince people they need hearing aids. He said once people have a hearing loss, which often happens around age 35 to 40, it is downhill from there. They will continue to lose hearing at the rate of 2 percent a year.

"Many manufacturers have the digitals and (may) be bringing those in at a lower price," he said. "But they may not have all the whistles and bells like the Diva."

Reis said it is important to look at who is providing the service as well as the product they are dispensing. He said people should look for quality in both.

"Do they feel comfortable and relaxed with the person doing service, or are they being pressured?" he said. "The most successful patient is the one who comes in on their own. The audiologist treats the whole patient, and hearing loss is secondary to patient satisfaction."

Leslie Whippen, an audiologist at the Paul Woodert Hearing Center in Des Moines, said all practitioners have their favorite manufacturers, and most can carry quite a few different brands.

"I like to stay with three or four, and here we stay with top of line," she said. "I believe the Widex is the Cadillac and Lexus of hearing aids. I think it can't be beat because of the number of channels it has."

Whippen said what makes digital different from its analog counterpart is a computer chip that is mathematically prescribing the correction for hearing loss. It is constantly sampling the environment, making mathematical judgments and looking at the hearing loss all at the same time.

The prescription for the analogs was stagnant, she said. "It made the same adjustments whether you went to the grocery store, bowling or church."

Whippen, who has been in the audiology field since 1978, said she has seen a lot of changes in hearing aids and how they operate. She said the current technology is helping people to hear more realistically than ever imagined.

There are a number of computer chips on the market that have been engineered to do the same "thinking," but Widex' Diva is the only one to offer 15 channels, Whippen said. She said eventually very few analogs will be available because of the high definition hearing features that the new hearing aids can offer. She said at her office, she can offer a range of hearing aids that will have the digital chips. The difference in any of them is the amount of flexibility in determining the environment and how fast the systems will work.

"And keep in mind, the digitals only manipulate the noise; they do not eliminate it."

Another feature she likes about the Diva is its two microphones, allowing the wearer to hear best where the head is pointing. She said the Diva focuses automatically, while some systems have to be set with a switch. Also, the greater number of channels, the more accurate the prescription, she said.

Hearing aids can be expensive, Whippen said.

One thing she always looks at is the lifestyle of the patient. She said for those who are stay-at-homes and like to watch TV, the hearing aid does not need to be quite so sophisticated. But for those who want and need the clarity Diva offers, she promotes using the best computer chip possible. She noted one huge advantage that people will find in spending from $3,400 to $6,000 for digital hearing devices is that when hearing loss changes, new hearing aids don't have to be purchased.

"You can just reprogram them - that is a huge advantage," she said. "And people need to understand they are paying for the audiologist's checkups, whether those are for a couple of times a year or more often. Choose someone locally and some you want to work with, because you will be working with them the rest of your life."

Senso Diva by Widex: All three professionals listed the Diva as a top-of-the-line product.
"I believe the Widex is the Cadillac and Lexus of hearing aids," Whippen said.
Prices range from $2300 to $2600.

Starkey hearing aids are recommended by Smith.
Prices range from $1450 to $2300.

Odicon: These hearing aids were also recommended by Smith.
Prices range from $1600 to $2350.

Siemens hearing aids were the top choice for Reis. Prices range from $1700 to $2300.

Prices from

©Ames Tribune 2004

(DeafToday's note: Odicon should be spelled Oticon)