When hearing aids aren’t enough

Guest blog by Daniel Pistritto.
I’ve had hearing loss for most of my life. What started as a mild unilateral loss in my early teens progressed to a severe to profound loss by the time I was in my forties. Through this experience, I consider myself an expert in hearing loss and its side effects. One thing I have learnt over the last 30 or so years is that sometimes a hearing aid is just not enough.

Just to clarify, I am totally and absolutely dependent on my hearing aid (and cochlear implant) to be able to hear the sounds around me and to be able to communicate with those around me and I look upon them as being as much a part of me as my actual ears. I am fortunate to be able to work in a profession where I’m constantly exposed to the ever-changing advancements in hearing technology and I am able to see first hand how hearing devices can improve the lives of those affected by hearing loss.

As I mentioned, my hearing deteriorated over the course of 30 years, and for 26 of those years I was completely deaf in one ear. What I noticed over those years was that, slowly but surely, certain situations were becoming harder to deal with, even when using a hearing aid.

  • When watching television, I found I was beginning to miss more of the dialogue and that I needed to turn the volume louder in order to try and compensate. As time went on, I became dependant upon subtitles to be able to understand the movie.
  • In social gatherings, I was finding it harder to understand what was being said.
  • In meetings at work, I was missing vital pieces of information and so I would ask a question, only to be told that it had already just been answered.
  • When using the telephone, it was becoming more frequent that I could not hear or understand the other party.
  • I was oblivious to certain sounds such as my alarms or the doorbell

Often I would revisit my audiologist for hearing aid adjustments and while this sometimes helped a little bit, it never fully solved the difficulties I was experiencing.

Eventually, I tried using a remote microphone to stream sound directly to my hearing aid and it was like I had rediscovered a long-lost world again. All of the difficulties I had been experiencing suddenly become so much easier. From that moment on, if I ever needed to change or upgrade my hearing aid, I would make sure that I was also equipped with a compatible remote microphone device. And so began my interest, bordering on obsession, in assistive listening devices.

Assistive listening devices (ALDs) can be broken down into 2 categories

  1. devices that augment hearing by enhancing the signal to noise ratio
  2. devices which provide a non-auditory stimulus to provide an alert to a sound

ALDs are therefore not limited only to remote microphones but also include

  • TV listening headphones or streamers
  • Telephones with extra volume control, telecoil or captions.
  • Devices which vibrate or flash when the telephone rings, the doorbell sounds, a baby cries or your smoke alarm sounds.
  • Vibrating alarm clocks
  • Bluetooth devices to stream phone calls to hearing aids

With the exception of my hearing devices, one of the most beneficial devices I use is my Pebble Watch. One of the first smartwatches available, the Pebble Watch would not be considered an ALD by many however its ability to vibrate whenever I receive a call, text message or notification to my iPhone means I no longer have to worry about not hearing my phone.

The other device I use daily is my Roger Pen which I use to hear the telephone at work, when conducting audiological testing with my clients, hearing and understanding during meetings and when watching television.

Even when using hearing aids successfully, it is common that some people will still experience difficulty in challenging listening situations and often the assumption made is that either their hearing has deteriorated or the hearing aids are not working correctly. Sometimes the solution to these difficulties can be found in some form of assistive listening device.

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