In Search of the Appropriate Hearing Solution

by Natalye M. Faison Au.D.

In the beginning, the effects of gradual hearing loss are barely perceived. So what if you occasionally ask the bank teller to repeat himself, or you have to turn up the volume on the television a few extra bars. It happens to the best of us right? Then one day you notice your hearing loss is causing more than the occasional misunderstanding. You find yourself asking for clarification more often than before. You opt out of your weekly bridge game because your hearing loss causes more frustration than fun. And even worse, close friends and family members are beginning to notice. So you run to your local electronics store to purchase a body-worn, personal amplifier- a little headset hardwired to a processor and a microphone ought to add the boost to your hearing you need. After all, the effects of your hearing loss are only occasionally noticed. Soon you notice that while at times beneficial, a personal amplifier alone may not always to the trick. Hearing aids may be what you require.

How hearing aids and personal amplifiers differ?
A personal amplifier is a form an assistive listening device. According to the American Academy of Audiology, “Assistive listening devices (ALDs) expand the functionality of hearing aids and cochlear implants by helping you separate the sounds you want to hear from background noise, and by enabling you to hear when the speaker is more than a few feet away”. While not always used in conjunction with hearing aids, ALDs are the perfect companion to hearing aids in order to facilitate better hearing. Some key differences exist between an ALD and a hearing instrument. They include microphone placement, processing and programmability.

The typical body worn personal amplification system consists of a set of headphones that are hard-wired to a processor which houses a microphone. Sound entering this microphone is routed to the headphones and into the ears at equal levels. Since our brains use the timing and volume differences of sound in order to interpret their location, the ability to pinpoint the origin of a sound (from the left or from the right) becomes diminished with a body-worn ALD. There are times when this is acceptable. For example if you are at a lecture and attending to the same sound source for a long period of time. On the other hand, the ability to localize sound becomes more important when someone is yelling to get your attention from across the room. Also microphone placement is important when considering phone use. Phone use using a body-worn personal amplifier is nearly impossible. Most hearing aids have a magnet that communicates directly with a telephone. This makes telephone use more pleasant.

Another key difference between personal amplifiers and hearing aids is the method of sound processing. In general, body-worn personal listening devices use analog technology whereas hearing aids use digital technology to amplify sound. The ability to separate speech sounds from background noise and employ other advanced features which aid in improved listening comfort and better speech understanding, are made possible using digital technology. Digital technology also leads to better sound quality and enables a hearing aid professional to tailor the sound to match exactly the user’s hearing loss. Body-warn, personal amplification devices amplify all sounds by the same amount and do not account for the individuals hearing loss for various sounds. A typical hearing configuration requires more high-pitch amplification than low-pitch amplification. . Thus, users may report an annoyance in the sound quality of the personal amplification device because it is amplifying all sounds- even unwanted ones.

Hearing loss can offer challenges and obstacles that make everyday tasks you once enjoyed seem almost impossible, and a trip to your local electronics store can seem like a quick fix. However, hearing loss is a complex issue. It is difficult to find a solution that is both effective and affordable. Hearing aids don’t always offer the perfect fix, and oftentimes it is necessary to use a hearing aid in conjunction with an assistive listening device.

If you suspect you may suffer from hearing loss, instead of taking matters into your own hands, it is necessary to seek the guidance of your medical doctor or ENT. A physician can provide medical clearance for the use of amplification and ensure there are no underlying medical complications. The advice of a local hearing care professional can assist in selecting the level of technology which suites your hearing and lifestyle needs as well as assist in determining if you are a candidate for assistive technology, traditional hearing aids or, more often than not; both.

Natalye M. Faison Au.D.- A native of Denver, CO, she received her B.A. in Communicative Sciences and Disorders from Hampton University then pursued her doctoral degree at Gallaudet University. Upon graduation Dr. Faison worked in both hospital and private ENT settings before transitioning to industry as an inside Audiologist and Trainer. She is currently Inside Audiologist for Panasonic Corporation of North America- Hearing Aid Division in Secaucus, NJ. Her professional interests include geriatric amplification and assistive listening devices. Dr. Faison currently resides in New Jersey and enjoys traveling.