August 10, 2004
From: Wilkes Barre Times-Leader, PA - Aug 10, 2004
By DAWN SHURMAITIS
For the Times Leader
Newly designed digital hearing aids earn high praise from patients
Adam Gates received his first set of hearing aids when he was 3 months old. Nine years and three sets later, he's something of an expert on frequency, voice activation and computer amplification.
The hearing aids Adam started with, technology-wise, were on the order of the first Star Wars movie. Kinda cool, but nothing compared to the latest whiz-bang offerings.
When he's fitted with a Danish-designed digital hearing aid called the Oticon Syncro, the tiny device is adjusted to Adam's specifications via computer. The hearing aid uses artificial intelligence to maximize hearing power.
"I've been in the business for 30 years and I've seen the transitions," said Forty Fort audiologist Louis Sieminski, who fit Adam with his new hearing aids. "The field has changed so much. It's exciting."
The Oticon Syncro works by analyzing incoming sound, selecting desirable ones such as voice or music and suppressing the rest.
Bob Smith, a recent convert, has worn at least five different devices during the 25 years he's fought hearing loss in both ears. He said this latest aid is light years from his first, which essentially did little more than amplify sound - all sound, including noise.
"These are dramatically different," said Smith, 60, of Bear Creek. "They're not perfect, but they're far and away the best I've ever had."
One of the advantages Smith notes in particular is a trial period, during which adjustments can be made. Smith wore his pair for three weeks before deciding to lay down his credit card.
Thanks to a state program to help hearing impaired children, Adam's parents can pay for his hearing aids through medical assistance, regardless of income. Digital hearing aids, first offered in 1995, range from $1,200 to $3,000 per aid, depending on quality and size. Adam wears a top-end Syncro in each ear.
The son of Anne and David Gates, of Edwardsville, Adam was born with hearing loss that ranges between 40 and 100 percent. If he didn't wear hearing aids from infancy, he may have suffered from a speech impediment or learning disability. Instead, he does well in school while also enjoying everyday kid stuff such as baseball, basketball, playing with a computer and seeing movies.
"He can definitely hear much better," said Anne Gates.
Thomas Edison invented the first hearing aid, which resembled a giant horn held to the ear to amplify sound. The advent of transistor battery and the later progression to digital were responsible for the most recent advances.
Today, hearing aids come in many different sizes, with some so small they fit into the ear canal. Typically, the bigger the hearing problem, the larger the hearing aid, Sieminski said.
Hearing loss can be caused by aging, heredity and the environment. Patients with hearing problems that cannot be corrected surgically have one other option: hearing aids.
An audiologist with 30 years experience, Sieminski has fitted more than 4,000 patients with hearing aids, ranging from 3-week-old babies to 100-year-old seniors.
"Just as many people have hearing loss as vision loss," said Sieminski, who pushed for a bill sponsored by State Sen. Charles Lemmond, R-Dallas, requiring all children born in Pennsylvania hospitals to get a hearing test at birth.
Today, 30-35 percent of all seniors over the age of 70 need hearing aids, Sieminski said. But hearing problems are not limited to seniors. Many teenagers suffer hearing loss from exposure to loud sounds like rock bands and NASCAR races, Sieminski said.
Former President Clinton sports two programmable digital hearing aids. Former Gov. Tom Ridge also wears a hearing aid.
While you can buy a hearing aid from a salesperson certified after passing a two-hour exam, Sieminski recommends the professional services of hearing specialists. Sieminski shares his practice with two ear, nose and throat specialists, Drs. David Barras and Dean Clerico. The practice sees between 300-400 patients each week, with the emphasis on hearing loss and ear infections.
"People have to be wary," Sieminski said. "There are many different options. You shouldn't just buy a hearing aid like you would a camera or stereo."
For more information, call Dr. Louis Sieminski at 287-8649 or go to www.syncro.oticonus.com.
TIMES LEADER STAFF PHOTOS/DON CAREY
Forty Fort audiologist Louis Sieminski explains recent advances in hearing aid technology.
Audiologist Renee Monahan fits Adam Gates with a new pair of digital hearing aids.
The Oticon Syncro, a Danish-designed digital hearing aid that helps filter out unwanted sounds while amplifying voices.
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