Not being able to hear loved ones speak, the telephone ring, or any of the sounds that make up everyday life, can be frightening. Loss of hearing not only impacts communication, but quality of life, and can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.
Hearing loss can occur at any age and range from moderate to total deafness. But, thanks to recent advancements in technology, new hearing devices can drastically improve, or in some cases, restore your ability to hear.
From enhanced sound quality and reduction in background noise to greater comfort and less visibility, wearing and using a hearing device is easier than ever.
Dr. Rajool Dave, Au.D., FAAA, an audiologist at Princeton Otolaryngology Associates, said it is important to make sure patients have a good understanding of their audiological evaluation results and their prognosis before moving ahead on a treatment plan.
“Realistic expectations should definitely be discussed because the last thing you want is for patients to view hearing devices as a ‘miracle cure,’ ” she said. “There are many factors that go into how much improvement in hearing a patient can expect. Factors include age the patient started to utilize hearing devices, type of hearing loss, severity of hearing loss, and then the aid that has been fitted itself can determine a patient’s success.”
Dr. Dave said that the primary complaint that people with hearing loss have is usually “trouble hearing in background noise.” With that in mind, most of the advancements in hearing aid technology are related to this issue.
“Hearing devices use automatic directional microphones to help people hear better during group conversations or while at restaurants,” Dr. Dave said. “Feedback management is another feature that is always being improved. With this, the ‘whistling’ sound that was so common years ago is virtually non-existent now for most hearing aid users.”
Another recent advancement that patients appreciate is the fact that hearing devices are now iPhone and Android compatible.
“This allows for patients to have binaural phone streaming, which means that they can hear phone conversations in both their ears, through their hearing devices,” Dr. Dave said. “Patients can also use their smart phone as a remote control that can change volume or programs within the hearing device.”
Although battery life has not changed significantly over the years, one major breakthrough has been the successful use of re-chargeable batteries.
“These batteries are typically encased in the hearing device and have to be charged on a daily basis,” Dr. Dave said. “You can usually get a full charge within three hours. The main advantage is that patients do not have to replace batteries on a weekly basis or open up battery doors at night time. Re-chargeable batteries also take away the guess work of when the batteries will die and need to be replaced. Most re-chargeable batteries are made to last approximately two to three years.”
As technology has advanced, design has improved accordingly.
“With technology improvements in how custom devices are built at the laboratories, they can make them smaller than ever before without compromising on fit or comfort,” Dr. Dave said. “Hearing devices have come a long way since the time of body-worn hearing aids. The receiver in the ear style is sleeker than ever and the custom devices are smaller and fit deep into the canal.”
Choosing the Right Hearing Aid
When it comes to selecting the right hearing aid, a patient’s age and dexterity level can help to determine the style that is chosen. The type of hearing loss and severity level can narrow down different models and styles of devices as well, Dr. Dave said.
“For example, patients with a conductive hearing loss may benefit with an implantable device, someone with sensorineural can benefit with a traditional hearing aid, or even a cochlear implant,” she said. “A patient’s lifestyle can help to determine which technology level is appropriate for that particular patient. The main goal is to find out what is most important to the patient and then our recommendations can be personalized to meet their specific needs.”
Ensuring Patient Comfort and Hearing Improvement
Once a patient is evaluated and has selected a style of hearing, they’re given a two to four week trial to test the device.
“We have the patient return to us on a weekly basis so we can evaluate their progress,” Dr. Dave said. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we spend time with patients and listen to their feedback. A good majority of our job as an audiologist is listening to patients and how their hearing loss is impacting them.”
Thereafter, patients return every six months to see their audiologist and ensure the aids are functioning properly.
Despite all the breakthroughs and advancements in hearing devices, some patients are still reluctant to consider hearing aids, Dr. Dave said.
“Patients at the age of 90 still don’t want to feel old and want the smallest device possible,” she said. “Patients tend to ask if their hearing will get worse. There is no black and white answer to that question as we are not able to predict how a person’s hearing will be year after year. All we can recommend is using hearing protection while in presence of high intensity noise exposure. We recommend all patients should have their hearing checked annually. If a patient’s hearing loss changes, it does not mean they need new hearing devices. The devices can be re-programmed for any change in hearing, which usually patients are not aware of.”
For more information, visit Princeton Otolaryngology Associates’ website at www.drscottkay.com or call (609) 445-4445.
— Liz Alterman