Assistive listening devices (ALDs) are devices that can be used along with your hearing aids to enhance your listening experience and provide extra help in challenging listening situations.
ALDs can help you hear better while having a conversation on the phone, watching television, attending live events and even help you hear your alarm clock in the morning. While ALDs are not a replacement for hearing aids, they can be used when hearing aids do not provide enough amplification, or when hearing aids cannot be used at all, due to physical limitations.
There are many different types of assistive listening devices for people with hearing loss. Some ALDs are available for public use in places such as theatres and schools, while others can be purchased and used for personal use. To determine the best solution for your, visit your local hearing clinic and speak to a hearing healthcare provider.
Public-use assistive listening devices (ALDs)
Public-use ALDs are systems that are designed to be used on public properties including places of worship, courtrooms, theatres, and schools. Public-use ALDs include loop systems, FM or DM systems, and infrared systems. If you think you may be interested in taking advantage of using these publicly available systems, it's important to discuss this with your hearing healthcare provider as your hearing aids will often need a "telecoil" to fully utilize these systems.
Loop systems, sometimes called an induction loop system or simply a hearing loop, use a pre-installed telecoil (or "t-coil") in hearing aids and cochlear implants to transmit sound directly from a microphone, worn by the speaker, to your hearing aids. Loop systems can be found in places of worship, auditoriums and theatres, and can help with those who have difficulty hearing enjoy and participate in the experience.
A common hearing loop known as a neck loop, such as the Oticon Streamer Pro, consists of a wire loop worn loosely around the neck that connects to a sound source and connects wirelessly. Loop systems can also be used by anyone via conventional headphones, instead of hearing aids.
Infrared systems function similar to loop systems but are often used in situations where privacy and confidentiality are needed, such as in courtrooms and banks. Rather than using electromagnetic signals, like a traditional loop system, infrared systems use light to transmit signals, which cannot be transferred through walls, providing an additional layer of privacy.
FM Systems are most often used in schools and use FM radio signals. FM systems are used with a boot (a small device attached to the hearings aids) or a receiver worn around the neck where sound from a microphone, worn by the teacher, is transmitted directly to the student's hearing aids using radio waves. This is very useful for students who have difficulty hearing in a noisy classroom environment, as it allows the teacher's voice to stream directly to the hearing aids and cuts out any background noise. In some cases, the actual system is a DM system, which is a digital version and has better sound quality.
Personal assistive listening devices (ALDs)
There are many different types of assistive listening devices available for private use that can be beneficial to use in certain listening situations to overcome background noise and gain a clearer sound. They are commonly split into four different groups: amplified telephones, notification systems, personal amplifiers, and TV streamers.
Amplified telephones are by far the most common type of ALD. Amplified telephones are used to help those who struggle to hear when talking on the phone. Amplified telephones offer an adjustable volume setting and adjustable tone control to help you hear speech more clearly. They also have an extra loud ringer volume, making sure calls are never missed.
Amplified telephones can be found in a range of styles, offering features like built-in speaker phone and memory-dial buttons. Amplified telephones are best used with hearing aids and are designed for those with mild to severe hearing loss. Note that most smartphones come with adjustable volume settings and are compatible with hearing aids, and there are even some smartphones specifically made with added amplification.
Notification systems are devices that take the place of the alarms in our home, such as alarm clocks, doorbells and smoke detectors. These devices are not only used to improve quality of life but are important for safety. Notification systems use amplified sounds, visual light cues or vibration to notify you of your surroundings.
Amplified alarm clocks
Amplified alarm clocks provide an extra loud alarm that can be adjusted to your own personal waking sound level. Many amplified alarm clocks also come with a pillow shaker, which can be paired with the extra loud alarm or used separately. The pillow shaker vibrates your pillow and can be used for those who will miss even the loudest sounding alarm or to simply avoid disturbing others in the room.
Alert systems use a built-in lamp flasher and light to alert you to the alarm clock, doorbell or telephone ringing. These can also be used with smoke detectors and help ease concern of not hearing your smoke alarm during sleep when hearing aids are not worn.
A personal sound amplifier is a device to help you hear when having a conversation with one other person. The device consists of a microphone attached to headphones. The microphone is held by whomever is speaking, and the headphones are worn by the listener. They go by different names, including "pocket talkers."
The listener can adjust the volume of the amplifier to a comfortable level using a simple volume wheel. Personal amplifiers are suitable for those with moderate to severe hearing loss and can be used with or without a hearing aid.
Remote microphones are small devices that can be used in particularly challenging listening situations, such as talking in a loud restaurant or in a car. The microphone is worn by the person you are speaking with, and their speech is sent directly to your hearing aids. This allows you to hear the conversation at a level louder than the background noise, making hearing the conversation with friends and family much easier.
Enjoying TV can be difficult for someone with hearing loss. Often, increasing the volume can bother others around you, making the balance between too quiet and too loud impossible to find. TV listeners or streamers help those who cannot hear the TV when it is at a reasonable volume, while also providing noise reduction for others nearby.
The streamer connects to the TV using a standard plug-in and uses radio waves to wirelessly transmit the sound from the TV to a headset. Using this headset, the sound from the TV can be amplified to the listener's liking, allowing everyone else to adjust the TV volume to a level that is comfortable for them. While larger and less versatile than Bluetooth streaming available on most hearing aid models, a TV streamer is useful for those who cannot wear a hearing aid while watching TV due to physical limitations.
Need help choosing the right ALD for you?
While assistive listening devices are not replacements for hearing aids, they are supplemental for those who need extra help in specific listening situations. Assistive listening devices are easy to install and use and can be found in many hearing retailers. Be sure to talk to your local hearing healthcare professional or schedule a hearing test to find the best option for your listening needs.