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Living Well

Connectivity Is Making Hearing Aids Cool

Last updated: Jul 18, 2016

Hearing AidIn an era of smart phones and smart homes, smart hearing aids are now making a splash.

Often mistaken for a Bluetooth speaker or not noticed at all, the latest hearing aids act as a wireless headset sending signals into the ears.

The new hearing aids’ connectivity and unobtrusiveness make them especially popular with tech-savvy people workers age 40 to 60, says Summit Medical Group audiologist Gary Thorne

“You’d be surprised how small some of these are,” says Dr. Thorne. “There’s still some stigma that hearing aids are for older people.”

Array of Connectivity Options Available

Depending on the model and accessories, devices may:

  • Allow volume and other features to be controlled inconspicuously from a smartphone app or tablet
  • Allow the user to listen to streaming music or audio from a television, at whatever volume desired, without disturbing others
  •  Help find the hearing aid if it’s lost
  • Control home thermostat, lights, and a home alarm system
  • Have the hearing aid notify the person when someone is at the door
  • Allow adjustments to minimize background noise

Accessories can include a small MP3-style to act as a microphone to carry on phone conversations.

Small Size Is a Big Benefit

The most common style of hearing aid sold now at Summit Medical Group is known as the receiver-in- canal type, Dr. Thorne says. “They’re the most cosmetically appealing.” Because the receiver—or speaker—is in the ear canal, this is the most discreet type of hearing aid, with a very small unit behind the ear. A tiny, clear tube links the unit behind the ear to the ear canal.

“People often don’t notice the hearing aid, because they are looking at your face, rather than your ears, when you speak,” Dr. Thorne explains.

Another type of hearing aid, called a behind-the- ear type, places the receiver in a somewhat larger unit behind the ear. Both these types work well, Dr. Thorne says, and are adaptable to changing needs.

A wide range of styles are available to help the hearing aid blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible. “You can get different hues to match skin tone or hair color,” Dr. Thorne said, adding that leopard prints and polka dots are also available, but they are generally sold to children.

Range of Choices Offered

Summit Medical Group audiologists work with a variety of hearing aid companies to offer patients plenty of choices and have sample models on display. “We’re not tied into just one manufacturer or style,” Dr. Thorne notes. Simpler hearing aid styles are also available.

While hearing aid connectivity is getting a lot of attention lately, Dr. Thorne points out that the improved hearing quality is still the most important feature in a hearing aid. “The connectivity is very useful, but it’s there to supplement the hearing aid itself.”

Dr. Thorne enjoys working with patients to select the best hearing aid for their needs. “It’s always nice to be able to offer patients more help. There is a cost, but is it worth it? Absolutely.”

Once a hearing aid is selected, Summit Medical Group allows patients to use it for a 30-day trial. If the hearing aid is not acceptable, it can be returned with payment of a dispensing fee only.

Many Delay Getting a Hearing Aid 

Despite all the choices, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association estimates that less than a quarter of the people who need a hearing aid get one. Hearing can begin to decline in the 30s and 40s, with exposure to loud sounds playing a major role. Many people struggle with hearing loss for years before getting tested.

People who have served in the military, for instance, often have hearing problems such as tinnitus, which can cause intermittent or constant ringing, hissing, or buzzing in the ears. Some hearing aids are helpful in easing tinnitus symptoms.

“If you think you have trouble hearing, don’t wait to have your hearing tested and get a hearing aid,” advises Dr. Thorne. “The longer you go without a hearing aid, the more you lose the ability to process sounds well.”

References

1. “Overview of Hearing Aids.” American Speech-Language Hearing Association. 
www.asha.org/public/hearing/Hearing-Aids- Overview/. Accessed July 10, 2016.

2. Interview with Gary Thorne, AuD., July 7, 2016

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