Hearing loss is an insidious condition that affects all aspects of an individual’s life. Enjoying television or movies means turning up the volume too loud for others or reading captions. In-person conversations become less enjoyable because of the effort required for the hearing-impaired listener. Phone conversations can be even more difficult, as visual cues are unavailable and the quality of the connection can vary. The inability to communicate effectively over the phone can be frustrating and exacerbate isolation, especially in these times. Luckily, solutions are available!
Bluetooth Hearing Aids
Modern hearing aids have Bluetooth directly built into the devices. The days of wearing intermediate accessories around the neck are gone. With this direct connection, any audio signal originating from a cell phone can be streamed directly to the hearing aids. This includes videos, music, podcasts and, of course, phone calls. Using Bluetooth for phone calls offers multiple advantages. First, the call signal can be processed for the hearing loss. Hearing aids function by amplifying the signal according to the user’s hearing loss. Frequencies with more significant loss receive more volume, while frequencies where the person hears better receive less. Thus, the frequency response is designed to help the wearer hear the signal as clearly as possible. Hearing aids have a distinct phone program automatically installed, meaning the call will be amplified in the same manner as environmental sounds.
Another benefit of using Bluetooth for phone calls is that positioning and distance of the phone are no longer an issue. When listening to the phone acoustically, the receiver must be placed near the hearing aid microphone in order to be amplified. This can often mean moving the phone around to find the “sweet spot,” or holding it in an unnatural manner. Bluetooth eliminates this struggle, as the signal is streamed directly to the aids. It also allows any call to be hands-free, as the distance from the phone is not a factor. Whether your phone is buried in your purse, or you are driving and wish to remain safe, it is possible to answer the call using the hearing aid and enjoy the conversation without ever needing to touch the phone.
Bluetooth works as a solution for cell phones, but what about landlines? The solution here would be a captioned telephone. A captioned telephone, as its name suggests, has a screen on which the other person’s words are typed, allowing the user to read along while listening. Visual cues lessen the cognitive load, meaning it takes less effort to comprehend the conversation. The captioning occurs in real-time, providing a natural experience. Most companies have an employee who provides the captioning, rather than a machine, ensuring accuracy. These employees are required to transcribe the conversation faithfully, meaning no part of a conversation can be altered or censored. In regard to privacy, all conversations are deleted on the employee’s end immediately after the call ends. However, the person using the phone is able to save conversations for reference. For example, if a conversation revolved around a doctor’s appointment, the conversation could be saved to ensure the date and time of the appointment were not forgotten.
Anyone may qualify for this phone and service. A federal phone tax provides funding, meaning the user never has to pay for any aspect. It’s helpful and free! The only requirement is that an application be submitted by a hearing care provider confirming that the recipient indeed has a hearing loss. At that point, the company will come to the home and install the phone and provide training on its use. A phone line is not required. Additionally, internet service is no longer required. If a person does not have internet in the home, the company now has hardware that grants access to the service. There are no barriers any longer!
Returning to cell phones, captioning services are also available in app form. It functions the same as the landline, ensuring similar quality. As of this writing, the app is only available for iPhones, although Android devices are currently in beta. Again, the only requirement is that a hearing care provider verifies the need for the service. If the app is downloaded without an application, it will be nonfunctional.
If the options above sound appealing, contact a hearing healthcare provider to help guide the process and select the best option. Communication, in all forms, is a vital component to quality of life. QCBN
By Jeff Lane, Au.D.
Trinity Hearing Center is located at 1330 N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more information, visit the website at TrinityHearing.net. Jeff Lane is a doctor of audiology with a passion for improving the lives of others. Dr. Lane may be reached at 928-522-0500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.