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How my hearing technology has improved over the years

As someone who suffers with a hearing loss, I am very dependent on technology. Technology helps me hear, helps me learn, helps me engage with other members of the public and helps me live.

Over the years I have had various hearing devices –  some good, some bad – but hearing technology is constantly moving and changing. This can only be a good thing for those who suffer from a hearing loss. 

Along with my upgraded hearing aids, I’ve also found benefits from the new listening technology available for classroom use, watching TV and making phone calls. 

My Hearing Aids 

My very first hearing aids were the Phonak Pico Forte PP-C-P2. My first digital hearing aids were the Phonak 311 AZ. I have also had Nathos, Naida 9s, and now the Phonak Naida V UP.

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I remember my analogue hearing aids from when I was young. Most simply, they provided loud sound, which was perfect for a power hearing aid user like me. The more noise I could hear the better I felt. My analogue hearing aids had a volume control, 1 to 5. The audiologist would turn the hearing aids to be comfortable on a volume of level 3, but I would usually turn it up to 5, purely because I wanted as much volume as possible! However, these hearing aids did nothing special in comparison to my digital hearing aids.

Digital hearing aids allow the audiologist more ability to fine tune the hearing  technology to suit an individual audiogram, thus giving the hearing aid user the best possible quality of sound.

As hearing aid users, we get a chance to test lots of different programs, a bit like changing your TV sound system from normal, to rock, to mono and so on.

With all these settings, there can be a degree of compromise between sound and quality, but everyone has their own preferences. I personally like sound, and lots of it. When my audiologist and I fiddle around with my hearing aids settings I always find them too quiet and revert back to turning the volume up!

I also struggle with hearing high frequency sounds, but the Phonak Naída V, comes with SoundRecover2, which increases audibility of high-frequency sounds, by compressing the high pitch noises into to a lower frequency that my hearing level can process. The bird song in the morning has never been as audible as it is now.

The bird song in the morning has never been as audible as it is now.

The other aspect I love about the latest Naída V technology is AutoSense OS. The unique technology allows the microphones in the hearing aids to detect the situation and filter between narrow profile, focusing the sound on a one to one conversation and cutting out background noise, or a wider profile when you may be engaged in a group chat.

I have yet to play any sport with the Naída Vs, and therefore can not comment on the durability for suitability for sport at the moment, but I’m happy that the technology keeps on improving, as you can see from my audiogram:

Audiogram_2016 (1)

In the Classroom 

When I was young, I dreaded  having to use hearing technologies in the classroom, and using the bulky radio aids, which made me feel so different to every other pupil in the class.

The first radio aid I remember being issued with was a Connevans 220. It was about the size of a cassette player, and I had one for myself and one for my teacher. They had massive thick straps to support the weight of the unit and wires linking to each hearing aid, which would inevitably get in the way when trying to write – or worst of all, when trying to be a good kid and thrust my hand in the air to answer a question, only to catch the wire and send the aid flying out my ear. 

Over the years, technology has changed and equipment has become smarter.

I have had the Phonak ZoomLink and the SmartLink, which both reduced the need for me to wear a unit. Instead, I could plug a small FM attachment into my hearing aid, making it more discreet to use the radio aid. The teachers unit was also slimmer, with a built in microphone, making it much easier to set up for the teacher and allow me to hear more in class.

The current ‘radio aid/FM’ technology is the Phonak Roger Pen, and remote mics. The Roger Pen, is slim, stylish and with the Roger-ready units already designed into hearing aids, so it couldn’t be any easier to use.

Obviously, my life and career has taken me out the classroom, but I could imagine a child using the Roger Pen at school now. The teacher could slide in into their top pocket, alongside other writing instruments and the other pupils wouldn’t even know the deaf child in the classroom had to use additional devices to help them hear at school.

Watching TV and Making Phone Calls 

I’ve had two TV systems for the hearing impaired.

My first one was an absolute disaster.

Back in 1998, I had a TV Loop to steam the TV sound straight to my hearing aids. To set it up, it required plugging in a box to the TV and then running a wire around the whole room. My Dad didn’t want the wire on display, or for anyone to trip over it, so we had to take up the carpet at the edges to tack the wire underneath. Even more ridiculous was when the loop started to get worn, we found the only way for it to work was to wrap the wire over each hearing aid, and along the top of the sofa. So there I was, watching the TV covered in wires –  just so I could have a “good” viewing experience!

For last 5 years I have been fortunate enough to have the Phonak ComPilot, which was game-changer for me when it came to trello1475397836watching television and taking on the phone. Not only for me, but for everyone I watch TV with and make telephone calls for.

The ComPilot has no wires to run around the room, and tack under carpets – just a small unit to plug into the TV and the unit to place around your neck. The quality and volume of sound is incredible. Not only that, but it allowed my to turn off the subtitles on the TV!

Now, even  the neighbors no longer have to listen to what my wife and I are watching on TV. My wife just sets the TV to the volume she wants and I can then adjust the ComPilot to a volume I am happy with.

I hope this post has given an insight into how technology has changed through the years and the improvements have affected my life. If you’ve had your hearing technology for a while, consider visiting your audiologist and learning about the new technology! Or, let me know if you have any questions in the comments.
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Mat Gilbert

Mathew Gilbert is a professional rugby player. He has played in England, Wales and Italy. As a sporting role model for children he hopes to inspire more deaf children and into playing sport and having “No Barriers”.

Mathew has bilateral sensorineural hearing lost and has worn hearing aids since the age of 5 and is currently wearing Phonak Naida V UPs.


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