Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent health issues in the world today. Over 48 million people in the United States experience significant hearing loss. Studies have shown that untreated hearing loss can have detrimental effects on a person’s social and emotional health. Listening with a hearing loss requires increased cognitive effort which often leads to exhaustion by the end of the day. The impact of untreated hearing loss leads to an overall poorer quality of life when compared to individuals with treated hearing loss. Hearing aids and cochlear implants that are recommended and appropriately programmed by an audiologist can help regain the joys of life that are found in connecting with family and friends through conversation. However, it is important to remember that although hearing aids and cochlear implants are significant components of the rehabilitation process, they will not lead to perfect speech understanding in all situations. Even with the use of hearing aids and/or cochlear implants there may still be environments that interfere with the ability to understand speech. The most common situations where hearing aid users may have difficulty include loud and noisy environments (i.e. restaurants), listening at a distance (i.e. large meeting room) reverberate or echoic environments (i.e. worship center) on the telephone and the television.
Listening in a noisy environment is difficult because the noise tends to “wash over” the soft high pitched sounds necessary for the clarity of speech. In addition, a hearing loss leads to difficulty with differentiating speech versus unwanted noise making it hard for the brain to focus. Studies also show that individuals with hearing loss need speech to be much louder than the noise in order to understand the message compared to an individual with normal hearing.
Distance and Reverberation
Listening to a talker standing at a distance is difficult because a hearing aid is most effective when the sound source (the talker’s voice) is within several feet of the hearing aid microphone. The further away the talker is the softer and less clear the signal will be. Environments such as a worship centers often lead to reverberation due to the lack of carpet and/or upholstery and the use of high ceilings; these factors combined cause sound waves to bounce off the walls and can lead to echoic and distorted sound quality before the sound is even picked up by the hearing aid or cochlear implant.
Telephone and Television
Understanding on the telephone can be difficult due to the lack of visual cues. During face-to-face communication we often rely on visual cues to help the brain “fill in the blanks” if certain sounds are not heard however, these cues are not available when using the telephone. In addition, the signal heard from a telephone is a filtered signal and different from a natural voice. Television shows and movies can be difficult due to the music added to the background of the spoken dialogue. In addition, many times the individual with hearing loss prefers the volume at one level while family members prefer a different volume which often leads to unpleasant watching experiences.
One of the great benefits of digital hearing aids today is the ability to take advantage of wireless technology. The use of wireless accessories can increase the benefit received from hearing aids. All of the major hearing aid and cochlear implant companies offer wireless accessory devices to help bridge the gap between the listener and the talker regardless of background noise, echo or distance. Many companies offer a device that acts as a tiny microphone and is worn by the talker. The microphone picks up the talker’s voice and sends the signal to the hearing aids or cochlear implants. This technology allows the talker’s voice to be heard louder relative to any background noise. The microphone will also transmit the signal over an average distance of 30 feet which leads to better understanding when seated far away from the talker. In addition, since the signal travels from the microphone to the hearing aids or cochlear implants wirelessly it is not affected by echo.
Another wireless accessory is a device that connects via Bluetooth to a smart phone and allows for phone calls, music and other media to stream from the phone directly to the hearing aids. This allows the listener to hear the signal in both ears at once which creates an easier listening experience. The microphones on the hearing aid or cochlear implant are turned down so the primary signal heard is from the mobile phone. Similarly there are also devices that plug into the television and allow for shows and movies to stream directly to the hearing aids or cochlear implant. This allows the user and the family member to independently set the volume to a comfortable level.
The combination of hearing aids or cochlear implants, wireless technology and communication strategies allow for the individual to maximize their benefit from amplification in order to achieve increased understanding of speech and an easier listening experience.
For more information on hearing loss and hearing aids, visit www.BetterHearing.org www.jhbi.org or www.betterhearingjax.com. If you think you or a loved one needs to consider amplification, the first step is a comprehensive hearing evaluation. Call us at 904-399-0350 to schedule an appointment today.