New technologies for seniors with hearing loss

Hearing loss is common as we age, and left untreated, can lead to social isolation. It can be exhausting and frustrating trying to participate in conversation, and as a result, even the most outgoing people with declining hearing may begin to avoid social interaction. Research has shown that unidentified and untreated hearing loss can lead to depression, memory loss and decline in cognitive function.

Fortunately, the rapid evolution of digital technology has led to new options in the management of hearing loss, including improvements to amplification, and user-friendly accessories and applications. If you or your loved one gave up on hearing aids over frustration or disappointment with older technology, these advances are worth exploring.

Better Hearing Aids

Hearing loss is rarely uniform across the spectrum of sound frequencies from low (bass) to high (treble). For example some people experience big losses in the middle range, while retaining normal hearing in low and high frequencies.

Early hearing aids amplified everything uniformly, which could lead to certain sounds being uncomfortably loud. Modern digital hearing aids are programmed to amplify the specific frequencies affected by each individual’s hearing loss. The capacity to produce smaller electronic components capable of processing complex digital information means smaller, more powerful hearing devices that precisely tailor amplification and noise reduction for each individual, under different noise conditions.

In addition to more precise amplification, other new features are reducing some of the old frustrations. Some manufacturers are producing rechargeable devices, reducing the need for frequent battery changes. Although in their infancy, disposable and invisible extended-wear hearing aids can be inserted deep into the ear canal by a hearing professional, where they remain in place for several weeks, providing discreet 24-hour amplification.

Gadgets and Apps

Many modern hearing devices are equipped with wireless communication capacity, such as Bluetooth technology. This allows information to be streamed between hearing aids and other digital devices such as smartphones, computers and televisions. Some hearing devices are associated with smartphone apps, which allow you to adjust settings on your hearing aids, and connect to audio on your smartphone including music, videos and phone calls.

Portable accessory microphones can be placed near a speaker you wish to hear clearly, such as a teacher, minister, or physician, transmitting distant voices directly to your hearing aids, or to a set of headphones. Transmitters can also be plugged into your television, stereo or computer audio jack, wirelessly sending audio to your hearing device or headphones.

Several different alarm and alert technologies are available that use visual cues, such as flashing lights, or physical cues such as vibration, to replace audio signals such as smoke alarms, doorbells, ringing telephones and alarm clocks.

For those who are comfortable using text as a hearing support, a number of apps can convert live voices, on the phone or in person, to text captioning. Most modern televisions are equipped with closed captioning capabilities, so that the words being spoken on most television shows can be displayed as text. Many have adjustable settings so you can increase the size of the onscreen text, or change the colour for better visibility.

There have long been amplifiable telephones on the market, for which the ringer and headset volume can be increased significantly. However, direct transmission of smartphone calls to hearing aids allows for binaural (both sides) reception of the caller’s voice. Better still is the advent of video calling such as Skype and Facetime. Not only does this allow wireless binaural transmission of voices, but being able to see the face of the caller greatly improves listener comprehension, and the feeling of social connectedness.

If you suspect that someone you care for is suffering from hearing loss, support them in talking to their primary caregiver about having a hearing test. Many hearing aid dispensers offer free trials of devices, allowing you and your loved ones to explore these new technologies and find the most comfortable and effective tools. If you have any questions or tips about supporting a senior with hearing loss, please let us know in the comments.

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