If you have noticed a loss or a change in your hearing, or that of a loved one, you may have questions about what kind of devices or products are available that can help the hard of hearing.
For people who have mild to severe hearing loss there are a lot of useful products and new technology that can help you, or someone you know make everyday life much easier. Whether you already have a hearing aid and need additional sound enhancement, or aren’t ready for a hearing aid but still need hearing assistance, we have information on what you need to know to help manage hearing loss.
Hearing loss is a common condition that affects as many as 48 million people in the United States alone. By age 65 it is estimated that one out of every three people has some form of hearing loss. Hearing loss can have a huge impact on quality of life, making it difficult for people to talk with friends or family. It can also lead to dangerous situations where people are unable to hear important phone calls, medical advice or alarms. Losing your hearing can be frustrating and embarrassing, but it doesn’t have to be. It is important that people with hearing loss are aware of hearing products and devices that can help them hear better.
Assistive listening devices provide amplification or improved speech intelligibility, especially in situations involving background noise. They can be used while watching television, during conversations, on the phone, in meetings or at large public venues. Products are available for a range of different listening situations, from one-on-one conversations to settings where there are many people talking, or where speakers are located some distance away.
What should I do if I have trouble hearing?
If you think you may be experiencing hearing loss, it is a good idea to visit a hearing professional in your area for a hearing evaluation. There are different professionals that you can see, including your primary care physician, an audiologist, or an otolaryngologist. An audiologist specializes in identifying, diagnosing, treating and monitoring disorders of the auditory and vestibular system portions of the ear, while an otolaryngologist is an ear, nose and throat specialist.
If you aren’t ready to visit a professional, there are online hearing tests or self-administered hearing tests that you take over the phone for a small fee. These are generally completely automated, and anonymous. Using these types of hearing tests can give you a quick assessment of your hearing so you take the next steps if necessary.
It is also important that let family and friends know that you are having trouble hearing them so they can give you the help and support that you need.
The idea of losing your hearing can be distressing, but it is important to seek professional advice if you suspect that there is something wrong with your hearing. There is a lot of support and advice that you can get from different organizations that will help you adjust to any hearing loss that you are experiencing.
What is an Assistive Listening Device?
Assistive listening devices (ALDs) are products that amplify sounds for people with or without hearing aids or cochlear implants. They are also referred to as Assistive Listening Systems (ALS). They help people separate the sounds that you want to hear from background noise. People who have hearing loss require a volume increase of around 15 to 25 dB, so using an ALD allows those who are hard of hearing to reach the same level as normal hearing. ALDs can also help in situations where the speaker is more than a few feet away, like in a church or a theatre.
ALDs can be helpful for people with mild hearing loss who need a bit of assistance hearing the TV or phone or when in a noisy situation like a restaurant. People with hearing aids or cochlear implants can also benefit from the use of ALDs in situations where there is a lot of background noise or the acoustics are bad. Assistive listening devices can help contribute to better hearing for anyone experiencing hearing loss.
In public places like a movie theaters, auditoriums, and museums assistive listening systems are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You just have to ask for the device and it should be provide to you at no charge.
What Types of Assistive Listening Devices are Available?
There are a number of different ALD devices to choose from that fall into several categories:
Alerting/Warning systems- Are devices that are used to alert an individual to activities around the home such as smoke detectors sounding, doors or windows opening, vibrating alarm clocks and more. Often they use flashing lights or touch with shaking or vibration to alert the users. Most often used with smoke detectors, door bells, fire alarms, ringing telephones, burglar alarms and severe weather alerts.
Telephones– There are a huge range of telephone and telecommunications devices from amplified phones to captioned phones or specialty telephones with increased output levels and features that are helpful for the hard of hearing.
Television and radio ALDs enable the user to enjoy home entertainment through either hard-wired applications or any number of wireless applications including induction loop, FM, infrared, and Bluetooth technologies. FM Systems enhances sound quality and improved speech understanding, in various listening situations.
Personal communication devices can be useful for individuals who have been unsuccessful with conventional personal hearing aids. They use many technologies used in radio and television devices.
What are the benefits of Assistive Listening Devices?
If you are able to find the right device that works well for you, the benefits are immeasurable. Devices that amplify sound make talking on the phone easier, watching TV is more enjoyable, they help you talk to your friends and family without frustration, and you can enjoy going out to churches and movies again. They can have a huge impact on someone’s overall quality of life.
What are the drawbacks to using ALDs?
If you buy any devices with batteries you might have to change the battery often. Just like hearing aids, ALDS are not perfect; you might find that a system that comes highly recommended by a friend might not work well for you. In some cases it is a little bit of trial and error to find what works best for you.
Is an ALDS the same as a hearing aid?
An ALDS is not a hearing aid. Both have similar parts like a microphone, or an amplifier, but a hearing aid puts all the parts together into one device that you wear in or on your ear. A lot of ALDs have a microphone that can be put near the sound source so that is what the listener hears without the background noise. The user listens to the amplified signal either through speakers, headphones or their hearing aid.
I don’t want to get a hearing aid, what are my other options?
Hearing aids can be quite expensive and are generally not covered by insurance making them out of reach for some people. You might only need hearing assistance in certain situations, like watching TV or in a noisy restaurant. There are a lot of other technologies that you can use to help improve your daily life such as phone amplifiers, TV listeners, personal sound amplification products, assistive listening devices or vibrating alarm clocks.
I have a hearing aid and am wondering how my telecoil(t-switch, t-coil) works with assistive listening devices.
Some ALDs can be used together with hearing aids to enhance hearing through a small wireless receiver called a telecoil or a t-coil. Generally if your hearing aid has a built in telecoil, you can use that to enhance the sound on phones, cell phones, TV/DVD, or personal amplifiers. The way it works is that electromagnetic fields from a transmitter (ear hook, neck loop, room loop, etc.) can be detected by the T-coil in a hearing aid, reducing background noise and providing a louder clearer signal. Telecoils are actually an underused technology that a lot of people don’t understand and don’t bother with, but it is definitely worth a look if you have a t-coil built into your hearing aid. Look for products that are telecoil compatible or t-coil friendly.
What Financial Aid is available to help me pay for assistive listening devices?
Assisted listening devices aren’t usually covered by insurance, although there are some forms of financial subsidies from various organizations that you can receive, but it varies from state to state and province to province.
For information about financial help in the U.S Gallaudet University has put together an extensive list on where to get financial aid.
In Canada have a look at the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association list.
Hearing Aids VS Personal Hearing Amplifiers
Hearing Amplifiers are small electronic devices that fit into the ear and amplify sound that are intended for people who are not hearing impaired. Hearing aids are intended to compensate for impaired hearing. PSAPs can be a useful alternative to a hearing aid. The big difference (other than cost) between Personal sound amplifiers and hearing aids is that personal sound amplifiers are not regulated under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, because they are not intended to cure hearing impairment and do not alter the structure or function of the body.
Since you don’t need to visit a medical professional to get a personal sound amplifier, some people consider them the audio version of reading glasses. Recommended uses for PSAPs are generally bird watching, hunting (listening for prey), hearing conversations that may be a distance away, or help with hearing the television. If you are interested in Personal Sound Amplifiers please see our Buying Guide for more information.
What can help me hear at church and in movie theatres?
For those who wear t-coil equipped hearing aids some churches have special sound systems (usually a loop system) that send sound directly to your ears. The best thing to do is inquire at your church to see what they have available.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires most public venues (like movie theatres) to provide assistive listening systems at no charge. Or you can purchase a personal FM listening device at a cost of around $150.
What assisted listening devices are available for watching TV?
A frequent complaint or area of contention for people with hearing loss is with the sound of the television. It can be difficult to agree on a volume level that works well for everyone in the family. There are a number of products that are helpful for this type of situation.
There are three general types of systems that enhance TV watching:
Radio Frequency/FM listening systems transmit sound via radio waves that can go through walls and ceilings, so you can keep listening to the TV in any room.
Infrared System TV listening systems have a limited range because they cannot transmit audio sound through walls or ceilings, but are generally more affordable than other systems for home tv watching.
Home Loop System- Are systems that you can set up in your house that are great for people with t-coil equipped hearing aids. They send the sound directly to your hearing aid without the need to have an extra headset or device to help you hear the TV. They are basically smaller simpler versions of the loop systems that you find in churches and large meeting areas.
Please see our article on Assistive Listening Devices for Television for more information.
What types of Phones are available for the Hard of Hearing?
There are a number of different types of phones that help those with hearing loss engage in regular telephone communication. He is a list of some of the different type available.
- Amplified- Cordless and traditional
- VCO (voice carry over) and HCO (hearing carry over)
- Amplifier that you can use with a regular phone.
- Emergency Telephones
- Amplified Cell Phones
If you would like more information please see our article Phones for Hearing Loss.
Can I just get one system that will work for everything?
No one system is good for all environments and all have pros and cons regarding use and features. Depending on your loss of hearing level as well as your lifestyle, you may be able to get by with just a good quality personal hearing amplifier or a device that can make it easier to watch TV or talk on the phone. A lot of the ALD technology can also work really well with hearing aids to make sounds louder and remove background noise while sending the sound directly to your ears.