It is unusual in this day and age for any of us to get through a day without having some form of electronic device in the palm of our hands. Many of us are using these devices to communicate with the people around us or as a means in preforming our daily tasks.
Wireless technology enables us to do this by communicating between two or more devices without the use of wires or cables. This is a significant advancement in the technology of modern hearing aids that allows us to connect to the world in ways we would have never thought possible with traditional hearing aids.
Wireless hearing aid technology allows both your hearing aids to communicate effectively with one another when adjusting to changes in your environment. This is unlike previous generations of hearing aids which functioned independently. Sound quality improves dramatically when your hearing aids communicate together and assess environmental cues as a whole instead of two separate pieces of the puzzle. By improving the way sound is being picked up and processed by your hearing aids, the better you are able to hear what’s going on around you, no matter the environment.
Ever wonder why we have two ears instead of one? Binaural hearing is crucial for the localization of sound, especially in challenging environments such as one with background noise. Locating where a sound is coming from can only be achieved with two ears. With natural hearing our ears pick up sounds at different times and sound levels and our brain helps us to determine where the input is coming from. With wireless hearing aids we are now able to more closely mimic this natural ability of hearing. By communicating with each other, wireless hearing aids improve our chances of maintaining these differences in timing and sound levels being received at each ear and thus improves our ability to localize sounds in our environment.
Wireless technology has made using hearing aids easier and more convenient for the user. Instead of pressing a button to change the volume or program on each device individually, a wireless connection allows adjustments made to one hearing aid sync with and adjust to the other side at the same time. As a result of this simplicity in wireless technology, the size of hearing aids have also decreased significantly making them more cosmetically appealing.
Staying connected has become an integral part of how we live our daily lives. Wireless hearing aids give us the ability to connect to external devices, such as your cell phone, music player and TV by using a number of different technologies. This aids in overcoming the hearing challenges that present themselves in complex environments, such as making a phone call at a loud dinner party or attempting to hear your favorite show on TV with a lively crowd.
The most commonly used wireless features that allow for this integrated connectivity are: electromagnetic fields, frequency modulation (FM) and Bluetooth.
A telecoil (also known as a t-coil) is a wire coil and rod inside a hearing aid that uses electromagnetic fields to pick up signals and send them to the hearing aid for amplification. When a hearing aid is in t-coil mode the user will only hear the sounds sent to the hearing aid using the electromagnetic field. As a result, any background noise present around the user will not be picked up by the hearing aid microphone.
T-coils are commonly used with telephones to pick up a speaker’s voice through the phone and send it directly to the hearing aid for amplification. Wireless hearing aids allow the sound to be amplified in both hearing aids even though the phone may only be put up to one ear.
Another common use for t-coils is in settings that use a teleloop system, such as a church or theater. The speech sound from the stage is sent through the loop system into the t-coil of the user’s hearing aids. The user again benefits from only hearing the desired sound and not the noise present around them. T-coils can be activated by the user pressing a button or by automatically switching into t-coil mode when the wireless hearing aids find themselves in those electromagnetic fields.
Frequency modulation (FM)
FM systems allow for the transmission of a sound from an external microphone directly into a receiver found in the hearing aids. The transmitter for the FM system picks up the speech and sends it to the receiver in the hearing aids using radio waves. Since the sound is being directly transferred into the hearing aids, it appears as if the speaker is standing right next to the user which provides clearer speech and reduced background noise during listening.
FM systems are portable and commonly used in classroom settings so the teacher’s voice is directly sent to the child’s hearing aids. They can also be used during business meetings, in restaurants and at church.
Bluetooth is the newest form of connectivity when it comes to hearing aids. Bluetooth technology allows us to send a signal directly from an electronic device into the hearing aids wirelessly. Cell phone and landline calls, TV signals and music can be sent from the electronic device right into the user’s hearing aids.
There are two ways wireless hearing aids can access Bluetooth technology via:
- Streaming accessory: depending on the make and model of your wireless hearing aids, some require the use of a streaming accessory that is comfortably worn around your neck and houses the Bluetooth hardware. In this case, whenever a user wants to connect to a wireless device such as a cell phone or TV, they can wear this streamer to electronically communicate the device to their hearing aids. As a result, your wireless hearing aids become your own wireless headset, sound becomes more crisp and clearer with no delay in transmission.
- Direct communication: this is the newest made for iPhone technology which allows for the transmission of sound directly to the hearing aids without the use of a streaming device. In these wireless hearing aids, the Bluetooth technology is built directly into the body of the hearing aids, eliminating the need for an additional accessory.
Overall both options provide ease of connectivity, using a discreet way of adjusting your hearing aids in specific environments. Adjustments such as volume or program changes can conveniently and easily be made to the hearing aids now by using the streamer as a remote control or an app on the user’s cell phone.
Staying connected is an integral part of how we live our daily lives.
Wireless hearing aids and associated technology can dramatically improve quality of life for a person with hearing loss. The ability to directly transmit a speech signal from its sound source into wireless hearing aids allows for improved sound quality, better localization, convenience, and ease of connectivity to external electronic devices. Wireless hearing aids allow us to stay better connected to the world around us and keep up with our ever-changing lifestyles.
If you or someone you know has a hearing loss, be sure to contact your local hearing care provider to discuss options and take the first step to better quality of life.