Seniors who experience moderate hearing loss can often times manage their condition with modest behavioral and lifestyle adjustments. As hearing loss progresses, however, assistive devices may become necessary. In such cases, a variety of devices are available to mitigate hearing loss. Here are the most common ones:
Hearing aids. The electronic hearing aid has come a very long way since its invention in 1898. Originally a clunky device worn around the neck, together with a large battery, the hearing aid has evolved into a small unobtrusive object worn in or behind the ear. Most types are digital – a small computer chip converts sound into digital code, makes adjustments based on the individual’s various needs, then converts it back into sound waves with amplification.
Some hearing aids fit completely or partially within the ear canal, some are molded to fit the outer ear and others are worn mostly behind the ear. Most hearing aids not only amplify sound, but also provide some level of noise reduction. The Mayo Clinic recommends that those considering a hearing aid ask their doctor for a referral to an audiologist, who will help them determine which type of aid is best for them.
Assistive listening systems and devices. These are technological tools that help people with varying degrees of hearing difficulties, ranging all the way from mild hearing loss to deafness. The National Association of the Deaf says they “separate the sounds, particularly speech, that a person wants to hear, from background noise.” The systems and devices take many forms, but not all are available for personal use. For example, some types of systems improve sound transmission in public places, such as theaters, airports and places of worship.
Those that seniors can use at their discretion include personal amplifiers, which amplify sound and reduce background noise, and which often include directional microphones that can be pointed at the sound source; “text telephone” machines that enable telephone users to exchange text messaging (which are declining in use as a result of the proliferation of cell phone texting); closed-caption television, which provides an on-screen transcript of what is being said, and various types of alert systems, such as flashing or pulsating lights that signal the doorbell or the phone is ringing.
Cochlear implants. Seniors whose hearing loss is too severe to be adequately helped by a hearing aid or assistive devices might benefit from a cochlear implant, which is a tiny device surgically placed within one or both inner ears. Unlike hearing aids, which primarily amplify sound, these complex devices function in place of what the ear normally does, stimulating the auditory nerve to send signals to the brain that are interpreted as sound. The NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders advises that, “Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn.” The help of a speech therapist may be needed.
Regardless of the level of hearing loss, mild or profound, seniors have many options for making sure that the impairment does not endanger them or take away their ability to engage in an active and enjoyable social life.