There is no disputing that hearing aids are essential devices for millions of Americans. But what happens if hearing aids just aren’t enough?
Some situations, such as those with an abundance of ambient noise, require an extra boost. Restaurants, large classroom settings or simply places with poor acoustics can quickly expose the shortcomings of hearing aids; that is where assistive listening devices, or ALDs, come in. ALDs are essentially amplifiers that bring sound closer to the ear. They not only improve the speech to noise ratio, but they can also separate the noise you actually want to hear from the unwanted background noise while improving a hearing aid user’s listening experience.
In general, people with hearing loss require a volume increase of about 15 to 25 decibels in order to achieve a “normal” hearing level. An ALD allows the volume increase to happen without disturbing others in the vicinity. The great thing is that most devices can be used in conjunction with a hearing aid or alone for those needing a slight boost in amplification.
The wide variety of ALDs on the market today, all of which have their distinct advantages in different situations, help to round out the hearing aid experience and make hearing aids even more effective. There are many different ALDs on the market, but here are five in particular which are the most popular.
A personal amplifier is basically a small box with a mic and a listening cord attached to it, most useful for one-on-one, in person conversations. It allows the person you are speaking with to attach the mic to their clothing so you can plug it into your personal amplifier and hear more clearly. This cuts out most of the background noise. One advantage to personal amplifiers is that they are relatively inexpensive, only around $200. The disadvantage is that since you are connected to speaker with a wire, personal amplifiers are not useful for situations that require you to move around a lot. Situations that require mobility or hearing from a distance, e.g. concerts or the theater, require a more flexible system. Keep in mind that hearing amplifiers are no substitute for hearing aids.
If you are looking for an ALD that allows for more mobility in addition to hearing more distant sounds, an FM system might be the way to go. An FM system uses radio broadcast technology to bring the sound you want to hear directly to your ears. With this wireless system, the user wears a portable receiver that allows them to hear the speaker. The speaker, in turn, wears a microphone transmitter that allows the listener to hear from up to 150 feet away. Ideal for classroom settings or outside activities, an FM system allows you to move around at will and still hear clearly from a distance. The only downside is that you pay for the added flexibility, with FM systems costing about $700 on average.
A high-tech option that affords maximum privacy, infrared systems are like FM systems except that instead of radio waves they transmit sounds using light waves. Since the light waves do not pass through walls, they are useful for situations in which privacy is needed such as doctors’ offices and court proceedings, etc. Though they are often used for watching TV or in theaters, they have one major disadvantage: any object or person that comes between the listener and the emitter causes the signal to be blocked. Sunlight can also wreak havoc on the signal, making these systems useful for specific situations but in most cases not as versatile as FM systems.
Induction loop systems
Those with t-coils in their hearing aids have another option: an induction loop system, which uses an electromagnetic field to carry the sound to the user’s ears. In this system a loop of insulated wire, which can range from a small loop worn around the neck to a loop that encircles an entire room, is connected to a power source, an amplifier and a microphone. Loop systems are inexpensive as well as versatile, useful for a single t-coil hearing aid user or a group. Mobility is not an issue, as the user is not physically connected to the system; even non hearing aid users can use the loop system with headphones or a receiver system.
Bluetooth technology is the latest innovation to take off among hearing aid users. Although Bluetooth hearing aids are not yet available, the technology allows two devices such as a cell phone or computer, for example, and a wireless hearing aid with a compatible streamer to talk to each other. The range is limited, somewhere around 20 feet, but the lack of interference and secure connection of this convenient hands free technology outweighs any negatives. In addition, the use of one streamer can allow the user to switch back and forth among multiple devices, from cell phones to tablets to iPods.
If you feel your hearing aids could use a boost in certain situations, whether at the theater, in the classroom or just watching TV, talk to your hearing care provider; she can help you decide which ALD is right for your lifestyle.