Sunday, November 11, 2012

Transitioning from Analog to Digital Hearing Aids

The author of the blog post at around age 5 with her mother.
Around the time this photo was taken, I would be wearing
my analog hearing aids.
When I was 12 years old, I had been wearing analog hearing aids for about six or seven years. I was used to the sound quality, having never experienced anything different. My audiologist suggested a switch to digital hearing aids. This would have been the late 90s, when digital innovation in hearing aids was starting to pick up steam.

I remember being nervous about the switch. Dr. Scharber explained how my new hearing aids would be able to direct sound more easily and also help me differentiate between background noise and important noise. I remember asking him how a hearing aid could do that, and he told me that my ears and my brain would do most of the work for me. I wasn't used to thinking of my ears as able to do much of anything for me, so hearing that made me think that maybe my ears weren't totally useless after all.

When I got the new hearing aids, I was amazed at the sound quality. Right away I wanted more sound out of those little aids. I remember them calling me a "power hearer" at the audiologist's office. I wanted to be able to hear everything.

I don't remember having to adjust to the sounds at all, but I do remember having to identify background noise I had never heard before. I could hear the air conditioner, and when we got home I heard the microwave ding from the other side of the house. The next time it rained, if I focused I could actually hear it beating on the rooftop (I'm not always able to, unfortunately, because I love the sound).

In 2009 I switched hearing aids again, this time to digital aids with Bluetooth capability. Again, the sound quality was a big jump and again I wanted more sound out of the even smaller devices. To me getting new hearing aids is like getting a pair of glasses. Your vision - or hearing - can degrade in such small intervals that you don't even realize what you are missing. When you get a pair of hearing aids or eyeglasses that help restore what you've lost it's great.

I can't wait to see what new advances come out in hearing aids in the future. The new technology is amazing.

5 comments:

  1. How exciting that your digital hearing aids worked for you! I wore analog all my life and I have tried digital hearing aids several times and I could not get them to work for me. I still have analog but they don't make the ones I like anymore. It is very frustrating, I know my hearing has deteriorated but I thought with all the advances in technology that I could find something better. Unfortunately, shopping around for hearing aids is costly so that is an issue as well. Thanks for listening!

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  2. Megan,

    I had a similar experience going from analog to digital hearing aids. For myself, it meant new sound filtering capabilities, and additional clarity for high frequency sounds…and adjusting to those sounds. After a few weeks, my brain had accepted the new sounds as normal.

    As for "new technology" – I have been able to locate additional information on "Made for iPhone hearing aids". See "http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4526".

    There is a new ANSI standard for compatibility between certain phones and hearing aids:

    "See The FCC hearing aid compatibility rules require that certain phones be tested and rated under the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) C63.19 hearing aid compatibility standards. The ANSI standard for hearing-aid compatibility contains two types of ratings:

    M: For reduced radio-frequency interference to enable acoustic coupling with hearing aids that don’t operate in telecoil mode
    T: For inductive coupling with hearing aids operating in telecoil mode"

    Very similar information is included in the iPhone User Guide (iOS 6) at "http://manuals.info.apple.com/en_US/iphone_user_guide.pdf". See page 124 for a discussion of iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 settings to take advantage of this new ANSI standard.

    Although I have heard of the term "telecoil mode", the other term of "acoustic coupling" is not well defined in this documentation. I am still wondering exactly what it means under the new ANSI standard.

    The way I interpret this information…is that the iPhone 4S and 5, with iOS 6 installed, will support the ANSI standard mentioned above, and that in 2013, the hearing aids that will support this same ANSI standard will become available. I also think my earlier speculation about Bluetooth being involved is probably not true.

    A final point: the new ANSI standard can be adopted by a variety of manufacturers of smart phones and manufacturers of hearing aids. This "new technology" will not be exclusive to Apple.

    – Bert

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    Replies
    1. Megan,

      In my earlier comment, I mentioned that "acoustic coupling" was not well defined. I overlooked this language included in the first document mentioned in the earlier comment.

      "… make sure that your hearing aid is set to "M," or acoustic coupling mode, and position the iPhone receiver near the hearing aid’s built-in microphone (or microphones). In other words, hold your iPhone against your head as you would naturally hold the phone when making a telephone call. The hearing aid will receive audio from the iPhone through its built-in microphones"

      My interpretation: in the past…"Cellular telephones contain radio transmitters that may interfere with hearing aid performance." An 'M3' or 'M4' rating means that the radio interference problem has been reduced, allowing the phone receiver to be held against a hearing aid microphone for "acoustic coupling". I pass on how this is accomplished from a technical standpoint.

      – Bert

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  3. I've been a practicing (always learning!) audiologist since 1988 and have often been faced with transitioning a patient from analog to digital hearing aids. I just wanted to add here, that it is usually possible for an audiologist to adjust digital hearing aids to behave like analog hearing aids. Sometimes I can "trick" a patient's analog-addicted ears into appreciating digital processing by starting a new fitting this way.

    Thank you for your blog, Megan. Keep up the good work!

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  4. I definitely understand how you feel. I have epilepsy and I remember how scary it was to change medication, no matter how much the doctor told me it would be beneficial. When I switched the medicine I am on now, I have never been happier!

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