Assistive Listening Devices
Hearing aids are incredibly powerful devices that give us the opportunity to maintain our hearing health even as hearing loss becomes problematic. One of the main developments in hearing aid technology over the past few years is their ability to distinguish between background noise and speech, and amplify the speech while reducing the amount of noise that you hear. While this feature gives us an advanced ability to zero in on speech in most any environment, sometimes we can still use some extra help from assistive listening devices (ALDs).
Another feature that has revolutionized hearing aids is Bluetooth capability. Most hearing aids sold today have Bluetooth built in, and can wirelessly connect with the devices you use every day like smartphones, computers and tablets. By utilizing Bluetooth, you can bypass the speakers on your external devices and the microphones in your hearing aids, broadcasting phone calls and other audio directly to your hearing aids’ speakers. This can significantly improve audio quality and, consequently, intelligibility. Bluetooth has become one of the most commonly used ALDs.
You can think of your Bluetooth hearing aids as having the same capabilities as a set of Apple Airpods® or other wireless “hearables.” This gives you hands-free operation for phone calls and other operations, much in the way we use Alexa and other in-home two-way audio devices.
ALDs can help fill in the gaps where your hearing aids can use some extra help. They can be useful in situations where you need to hear a single person more clearly, such as in the car or in a meeting. They can also be helpful in movie theaters, live performances, museums, lecture halls and more.
Besides Bluetooth, there are four main types of ALDs:
Audio Induction or “Loop” Systems
A loop system uses a length of wire that surrounds the room, hence the name “loop.” If your hearing aids incorporate a “T-coil” or “telecoil,” they can pick up this signal directly. Loop systems are common in houses of worship, lecture halls, movie theaters, and museums. They are especially valuable when the room may be exceptionally reverberant. Typically, a person will speak into a microphone, and the signal from the microphone will be sent to the loop system. When your hearing aids are connected to it, it will sound as though you’re standing right next to the speaker, rather than across the echoey room. You can control the volume of amplification yourself, right from your hearing aids.
Similar to a loop system but more commonly used in smaller spaces, an FM system uses a microphone and a transmitter. Most hearing aids do not directly accept the FM signal, but the FM signal may be sent to a small receiver that actually has a loop system attached to it. Your T-coils can then accept the loop signal from the FM transmitter. These systems are useful in spaces where a loop has not been installed, and are typically available in classrooms, meeting spaces, and other smaller venues.
These are similar to FM systems, but they transmit their signal using a beam of light instead of an FM signal. While this can make the signal cleaner and less susceptible to disruption from competing FM waves in the air, the drawback is that you need an uninterrupted line of sight between the transmitter and receiver. Infrared systems are commonly used at home to transmit the audio from a television, though Bluetooth is becoming more common for this purpose.
Personal Amplified Systems
Personal amplified systems are not used in conjunction with hearing aids, but instead of them. Basically, they are the simplest type of amplifying device. Where hearing aids are fitted to amplify sound at the specific frequencies you require, personal amplified systems amplify all audio and boost it to a level that you may be able to hear more clearly. While they are significantly less expensive than hearing aids, there is a danger with them that you can actually damage your hearing by boosting all frequencies evenly. They may be beneficial in some situations, but we should not rely on them for daily amplification in the way we rely on hearing aids.
If you are curious about hearing aids and ALDs, give us a call to talk about the benefits of different systems and how they can work with your hearing aids to help you hear better in all types of situations.