Wireless technology and hearing aids

The hearing aid industry, like all other electronic industries, took the step from transistors to digital circuitry in the late 1990’s. This new electronic capability started the march towards smaller hearing aids. Making hearing aids smaller was the research and development direction for the past ten years. Now the focus is on hearing aids that have wireless ability. Wireless technology means “a broad term that encompasses all sorts of technologies and devices that transmit data over the air rather than over wires.” (www.lifewire.com) Examples of wireless devices include cell phones, remote controls, wireless mice, wireless keyboards, wireless routers, wireless network cards, and pretty much anything else that doesn’t use wires to transmit information.

Maybe you have seen someone print from their computer without a cable between the two units. That is a perfect example of wireless technology. Hearing industry wireless technology began with giving the professional the ability to program and then adjust hearing aids without attaching any small cables from their computer to the hearing aids. The cable process was done with tiny electronic ports, usually inside the battery doors on the hearing aids. Now I have a small device that plugs into my computer and can communicate with the hearing aids up to thirty feet away. This lets patients even walk out on my office porch to get a sense of better hearing outside rather than inside.

By the way, before cables, we adjusted hearing aids with tiny screw drivers and three small notches on the aids called trimmers. Since programming ability, wireless hearing aids can now interact with cell phones. The patient usually wears a small clip on their shirt that acts as a microphone and an on off switch. When the phone rings, it is heard in both ears. When the call is connected the incoming, call is heard in digital stereo, both ears. The caller hears the patient through the microphone on the collar.

Some new phones by-pass the collar/shirt clip and interact directly with the hearing aids. There are other accessories that allow the patient to have wireless signals directly from the TV, a remote microphone that can be clipped on someone across the table, and basically any audio sounds that can be streamed (played) on any fixed or mobile digital devices. Simply, anything you can hear can now be sent to the hearing aids with wireless technology.

The more things you want the hearing aids to do, usually raises the price of the hearing aids. Most of the patients I help just want to hear better and are not inclined to be excited about the wireless revolution in hearing aids. I just saw a hearing aid ad in our trade magazine that has the hearing aid acting like a “fitbit” style wrist device tracking steps, heartrate, and sleep patterns. One company is marketing their hearing aid wireless ability to replace emergency call necklaces that call a company if a patient falls. New hearing aids all have wireless programming ability for the professional to easily set and adjust your new aids, but beyond that, it is up to the patient to decide how involved with wireless technology they want their hearing aids to be.,

If you have the symptoms of hearing loss let a professional help you find out why. The hearing professional will help you sort out the technology level to meet your need, your budget, and answer your hearing need questions.

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Jeffrey L. Bayliff, NBC-HIS, is owner of Hear the Birds Hearing Aid Center, Lock Haven, PA.

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