Discovering hearing loss is one thing. Finding a solution that works for your specific needs, however, is another matter altogether. In order to make the best decisions about your hearing, it’s important to get a feel for the breadth of today’s technically advanced hardware.
Here, then, is a quick overview of the most common hearing device options — solutions that can start you down the road to a more amplified (and fulfilled) tomorrow.
Hearing aids are one of the more common solutions used to combat hearing loss. These small devices help amplify and process sound so that you can hear what’s going on around you in the most natural way possible.
Usually, hearing aids include four main parts:
Microphone – Picks up the sound, turns it into an electric signal, and sends it to the amplifier.
Amplifier – Increases the volume of the sound and sends it to the receiver.
Receiver – Changes the electrical signal received from the amplifier back into sound, and then sends the sound into the ear canal.
Battery – Gives power to the hearing aid so that all pieces can do their jobs.
Technologically speaking, hearing aids have advanced light years in the last few decades and can now provide remarkable sound access for all kinds of hearing loss. There are a number of different hearing aid styles on the market today, including:
- Behind-the-ear (BTE)
- In the ear (full shell)
- Half-shell/In the canal
- Open fit
- Receiver in the canal
Each of these styles fit and function in different ways. Generally speaking, the size, style, and technology level of the hearing device can impact the overall cost.
Today’s hearing aids have sophisticated computer chips capable of filtering out background noise, adapting to your changing individual hearing environments, and delivering clear signals in both directional and omnidirectional modes. Some instruments can even improve audibility by moving or shifting sounds from a range the user can’t hear, into a range more audible to the individual. Many of the newer hearing aids can also be paired with devices used everyday — TVs, cell phones, and iPods or MP3s — sending sound directly into the user’s ears.
If you select hearing aids, here are some important things to remember.
Be Realistic – Popping the new aid(s) into your ears won’t immediately result in a hearing miracle. Hearing sound is not the same as understanding it, so give your brain the chance to adjust to the new sounds and learn what they mean.
Go Gradually – Much like a new pair of shoes, you should try using your hearing aids in a variety of environments. Start where you will be the most successful and gradually work towards the most challenging listening situations. This approach will give you time to adjust to the new sounds around you.
Take notes of the challenges you encounter, and schedule a visit with your hearing care professional to talk through your experiences. The information you provide will help your hearing specialist fine tune your hearing aids accordingly, which could address many initial issues.
Educate and Choose For Yourself – Audiologists and hearing aid dispensers typically work with a variety of manufacturers and, depending on their comfort level, may favor one or two main brands. Before deciding which hearing aid is right for you, explore your options. Manufacturers have a variety of products with different features geared to help address a number of listening situations. Some offer unique connectivity options to the different electronic and digital devices you use daily, like your cell phone or TV.
Take a moment to evaluate the areas of your life where you would like to hear better, and assess your other connectivity needs. Then, a quick Google search is all it takes to jumpstart your online search, enabling you to have a knowledgeable and more productive conversation with your hearing care professional about the best fit for you.
Re-Evaluate – Sometimes thinking short-term (for example two weeks or a month) seems less intimidating than making a “lifetime decision.” When it comes to choosing your hearing solution, make the best decision you can, and then evaluate its performance. Providing detailed feedback to your hearing professional about the amplification’s effectiveness can lead to a more successful experience.
In most U.S. states, the purchase of hearing solutions includes a trial period. This allows you time to adjust to hearing new sounds and also allows you to have an open discussion with your hearing professional in the event adjustments can be made to best meet your needs.
Start Small – Start wearing your aids in your own home, while talking with just one person. Then, as you get more comfortable, work your way up to more challenging venues, like family gatherings, theatre events, and other noisy situations. Soon, you’ll be following the conversation in busy restaurants, noisy meeting rooms and neighborhood gatherings!
Cochlear implants can be a life-changing hearing solution for those impacted by significant hearing loss, and who receive little or no benefit from hearing aids. Many people who have never heard before may experience hearing for the first time. In contrast to hearing aids, cochlear implants bypass the damaged part of the ear and send signals directly to the brain via the hearing nerve.
Cochlear implant systems consist of two components:
External Component (the sound processor)—The system microphone captures sound waves that pass through the air and converts them into detailed digital signals that are sent to the implant.
Internal Component (the implant) – The implant receives digital signals from the external component and converts them into electrical signals that are sent to the hearing nerve. The hearing nerve then sends impulses to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.
Adults interested in cochlear implants typically receive a referral to a cochlear implant center from their audiologist or family doctor. A hearing health professional, or team of professionals, then evaluate potential recipients to determine whether they are candidates for cochlear implants. The hearing professionals will describe cochlear implant candidacy and criteria, and outline possible outcomes for each person.
If you are a cochlear implant candidate, your hearing health provider will schedule you for implantation. Two to four weeks after implantation, you will attend your first activation appointment, and receive your external processor. That first activation appointment is when you will first use your cochlear implants to hear sound.
You will continue to attend a series of programming sessions — called fittings — with your audiologist, who will fine-tune your settings. Additionally, adults with cochlear implants can expect to have annual check-ups at their implant center.
It’s important to note that listening with a cochlear implant is very different than listening with a normal-hearing ear. What you hear when your cochlear implant is initially activated depends on several factors, including the age when your hearing loss began, the duration of your hearing loss, the age at which you received implants, the health of your inner ear, and any other medical conditions that might impact your hearing outcome.
Each ear is unique, and everyone responds differently to what they first hear. With time, practice, and in some cases listening exercises or professional-directed therapy, you will hear increasingly more details in the sound around you. As the brain adjusts, what you hear becomes more natural. The initial experience of hearing with a cochlear implant does not set the stage for what sounds you will hear and interpret after time spent listening and practicing.
Cochlear implants are also an effective hearing solution for children. For many kids with significant hearing loss, hearing aids are not enough to compensate for a damaged ear’s inability to hear.
If your child failed a newborn hearing screening or still struggles to hear with hearing aids, he or she may be a candidate for cochlear implants. A key factor in realizing success with cochlear implants in children is to have strong family support, as well as a long-term treatment plan that supports developing speech, listening, and language skills.
Whether it be hearing aids or cochlear implants, the sooner a child’s hearing loss can be diagnosed and an intervention plan put in place, the more successful will be the chances of acquiring age-appropriate speech, listening, language and social skills. Cochlear implants have enabled thousands of children around the world to talk, succeed in school, and socialize with peers.
Connecting To Your World: Auditory Assistive Devices
There are a number of auditory assistive devices, which help people with all different degrees of hearing loss. This equipment can help improve communication between people, help with listening to TV and radio, and improve hearing over the telephone. There are a variety of technical ways to do this including FM, infrared, inductive, telecoil, direct audio input (DAI) and telephone amplifiers.
Some of these devices work by placing a microphone near a sound source, capturing the sound, and then sending it directly to the listener’s ear. Bluetooth technology provides another option;. It allows for sound access, and even two-way communication, via radio signals transmitted directly to your amplification, or to an accessory worn around the neck and paired with the sound source.
Regardless of the solution that you use, having these tools can certainly make it easier to answer the phone, listen to the TV at the volume that’s right for you, or talk to your toddler sitting in the back seat of the car as you drive down the road. In short, it gives you access to a world of sound, and the people in it, which can provide an undeniable richness to your daily life.