Can Kids Benefit From Hearing Loops?

People with hearing loss have trouble hearing when they are at a distance from the person speaking, when it is noisy, and in public places.

For children, this can be a particularly serious problem because children need to hear clear loud speech all of their waking hours if they are going to succeed in developing the auditory brain and learn language optimally.

While hearing aids, cochlear implants, and bone-anchored devices are designed to provide improved auditory access, they provide optimal access only when the talker and listener are close and when there is no competing noise. When there is competing noise or when the talker and listener are more than a few feet apart, additional technology is needed.

 

Types of group listening systems

The goal of group listening systems (hearing loops, FM systems, and infra-red technology) is to increase the size of the “Listening Bubble” for people with hearing loss.  In other words, additional technology helps a person with hearing loss hear things that are out of the range of their hearing aids, or in situations when speech is affected, or to hear better in noise.

Several different listening systems are available to improve hearing in noise. FM systems are the most common systems used in schools because they provide good quality signals with a broad frequency response. In the US, FM systems are the most common group technology and, while the quality is excellent, they require additional equipment to couple to hearing aids.

Hearing loops are common in Europe but less so in the US, although the movement to increase loop technology is growing quickly. Infra-red systems can also provide assistance in group situations, but they are not commonly used.

 

How do hearing loops work?

Hearing loops transmit an audio signal using magnetic energy to the telecoil in a hearing aid or cochlear implant. The loop can be set up in any room by stringing looped wires around the room. They can be used in large places like theaters, auditoriums, churches and temples, or in smaller places like meeting rooms, taxis or the checkout counter at a supermarket.

A loop can also be used to aid in hearing TV. The user has to turn on the T-coil on their hearing aid, cochlear implant or BAHA. The audiologist needs to be sure that the T-coil is activated, and the user needs to know how to turn it on and off. The signal from the group amplification system will be transmitted through the loop to the T-coil on the personal listening system.

 

Telecoil vs Mic-telecoil position

If the hearing aid or cochlear implant is set to “T” only, the user will hear only sound going into the group microphone. She will not hear people sitting close by and will not hear her own voice. I am not excited about putting kids in a position where they cannot hear those around them. However, if the hearing aid or cochlear implant is set to the “M-T” position, the child should be able to hear from the microphone of his own device as well as from the group microphone. It means that parent, teacher and child can communicate while listening to a program.

 

Frequency response of hearing loops

Hearing loops are great devices and important contributions to improve listening. However, loop systems have some limitations. The telecoil of hearing aids do not have as wide a frequency response as the hearing aid or cochlear implant microphones. Telecoils have a reduced high-frequency response. That means that a child may not hear high frequency phonemes, missing sibilant, fricatives, pluralization, etc.

 

Hearing loops for kids

Hearing loops are great for theaters, movies, auditoriums, museums, etc., but they should not be used in classrooms and in other situations in which listening is critical for learning. High frequencies are critical and need to be maximized. So make use of hearing loops for many listening situations that will improve socialization and activities.However, loops are not a substitute for the kind of high quality listening that is required in school.

About Jane Madell

Jane Madell has a consulting practice in pediatric audiology. She is an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and LSLS auditory verbal therapist, with a BA from Emerson College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Her 45+ years experience ranges from Deaf Nursery programs to positions at the League for the Hard of Hearing (Director), Long Island College Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center/New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as director of the Hearing and Learning Center and Cochlear Implant Center. Jane has taught at the University of Tennessee, Columbia University, Downstate Medical School, and Albert Einstein Medical School, published 5 books, and written numerous books chapters and journal articles, and is a well known international lecturer.

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Juliette Sterkens - HLAA Hearing Loop Advocate

I have great news regarding your recent blog about Hearing Loops for Children in Classrooms. While indeed in certain circumstances there can be reasons that a hearing loop may not be the most appropriate assistive listening system, lack of high frequency response is no longer one of them. The latest IEC 60118-4 Induction Hearing Loop Standard requires that the magnetic frequency response extends from 100 to 5000 Hz +/- minus 3dB which is the same as the audio standard for professional sound systems. On the receiving end of this system the hearing aid manufacturers must (as per the latest S3.22… Read more »

Jerry Bergman

Jane Madell’s informative article on listening systems underscores the need for assistive technology to help people with hearing loss of all ages to hear and participate as fully as possible in school, at work and at leisure. However, she needs to revise her view of the wonders of today’s induction loop technology and t-coil listening. Induction (or hearing) loops are increasingly being installed in college lecture halls and auditoriums, confirming their value in learning environments. And while FM devices remain popular for students to hear teachers, the installation of induction loops in new school, library and auditorium construction is providing… Read more »

Dimitri

Am just reading your article and yes you are 100% correct induction loops can be used all over but in Europe we do not recommend to use it in a class room. Simply as using the T switch the kids will not be able to hear each other (beside the frequency part). They will feel isolated this will later cause all kind of mental problems. We would recommend to improve the acoustics of the class room so that it becomes easier for the kids to hear what the teacher tells them. In general it is important that the kids can… Read more »

Linda Heller

Excellent comments & citations! We will put these citations on our website. Thanks for your continuing education & advocacy! :) Linda Heller, HLAA-Delaware

Karen MacLennan, AuD/TSHH

Dear Dr. Madell, Thank you for your article on the Listening Bubble. I now use your analogy of a listening bubble when explaining the difficulty individuals with hearing loss face on a daily basis with my graduate and undergraduate students. I also wanted to add some information about T coils. T Coils can be programmed have an excellent frequency response even in the high frequencies. If a vertical T coil is not providing adequate high frequency gain in a hearing loop that meets the IEC standard, I would consider adjusting the T coil program so the T coil gain and… Read more »

Bill Droogendyk

I too like the listening bubble imagery. It’s helpful, but the definition is incomplete. I’ve posted a comment on the listening bubble post.

Dan Schwartz, Editor, The Hearing Blog

@Karen: Just to clarify on the issue of high frequency rolloff on the telecoil program of most hearing aids, it seems to be an issue of the factory defaults when the responses to each of the programs are built by the fitting software, even when you select NAL-NL2 as opposed to the proprietary fitting prescription. Go ahead and create a dummy patient in your fitting software and plug in a typical moderate-severe sloping audiogram, and you’ll probably have a face-palm moment when you see the results. I have No Idea why the manufacturers do this — Perhaps feedback reduction, or… Read more »

Finn B Petersen

“A hearing loop system may be useful in the auditorium, but it will not provide as clear a signal as an FM system because the telecoil of the hearing aid usually has a reduced frequency range.” If only it was as easy as this to point out one kind of product: this is the best! Conventional FM systems: The small FM – equipments we know from MAF of HAT (Hearing Assistive Technology) – Phonak’s Inspiro and Roger, Oticon’s Amigo and so on – have in fact very week transmitters and thus also short range and in the peripheral areas the… Read more »

Dan Schwartz, Editor, The Hearing Blog

Finn, I don’t know when or where you learned about antenna engineering, but among other things physical length is almost totally unrelated to electrical length when loading coils are used for impedance matching, or continuous helical coil antennas which are used in some 27 mHz (11 meter) CB antennas for cars & trucks and “rubber duckie” flexible antennas used on VHF handy-talkies and scanners. In addition, although some gain may be desired for fixed base station vertically polarized antennas, in fact for portable receivers where the orientation angle as well as direction is unknown, you want as close to an… Read more »

Finn B Petersen

Sorry the last part might look a bit confusing. I wasn’t aware that the blog didn’t accept tab Tables. For enlightening I’ve tried to put up the table in text string here: Manufacture – Product – Type – Range – Dynamic (Ref 1) Bo Edin – Univox®PLS-X5 – Hearing loop – (75-6800Hz) – 50-70dB (+1,5dB) (Ref 2) Bo Edin – UniVox®SLS-300 XF – Hearing loop – (70-10000Hz) – >70dB (Ref 3) Phonak – Roger-Pen – Digital Radio – (100–7300Hz) – Not said (Ref 4) Phonak – Inspiro – Analog FM – (100-6000Hz) – Not said (Ref 5) Phonak – MLxi… Read more »

Juliëtte Sterkens

I particularly like your explanation of the Telecoil frequency response and the UniVox SLS300 hearing loop system with flat copper for foil frequency response reaching up to – in some cases -16,000 Hz. Your technical description confirms what I have observed in properly installed Hearing Loops with my clients, consumers all over the country, during the 3rd international hearing loop conference in Eastbourne the UK, and including children with hearing aids and cochlear implants. I thank you both as i realize that this answer took a considerable amount of time, effort and research. There so much confusion and misinformation out… Read more »

David Abell

Very interesting reading for myself as a non-engineer. I was particularly interested in the discussion about the limitations of FM systems. DAB was also new to me, and I would like a reference to an explanation for non-engineers.

Finn B Petersen

To Mr. D. Abell (a.o.) DAB – Digital audio broadcasting. Used in commercial radio broadcasting digital audio broadcasting, DAB, is the most fundamental advancement in radio technology since that introduction of FM stereo radio. It gives listeners interference – free reception of CD quality sound, easy to use radios, and the potential for wider listening choice through many additional stations and services. DAB is a most reliable multi service digital broadcasting system for reception by mobile, portable and fixed receivers with a simple, non-directional antenna. DAB system is a high spectrum and power efficient sound and data broadcasting system. It… Read more »

Dan Schwartz, Editor, The Hearing Blog

There’s a Very Big “But” that must be kept in mind: Baseband induction (T-coil-based) neck loops or room loops must NEVER be used on infants, children, and others who are unable to report they have a problem. In fact, improperly configured HAT systems have led some experts such as audiologist Holly Teagle at UNC and noted educational audiologist Cheryl DaConde Johnson to recommend holding off deploying this vitally-needed technology on infants & toddlers specifically because they can’t report a problem. On the other hand, experts such as Erin Schafer at UNT and Jace Wolfe at Hearts for Hearing recommend HAT… Read more »

Finn B Petersen

Two major questions appear in my mind: Why is it that “Baseband induction (T-coil-based) neck loops or room loops must NEVER be used on infants, children, and others who are unable to report they have a problem.”? If the kids are not able to report problems in loop systems, how are they able to report problems in radio systems? From my experience radio systems – especially traditional FM systems – have even or more often problems with stability than loop systems. If the loop systems are made and installed professionally and not bought through any mail order company and installed… Read more »

Juliette Sterkens

Thank you Finn for your response. It is unfortunate that in the United States many hearing instruments are sold to users, including parents of children, that do not include Telecoils. Here the professionals are making the decision for them and it’s my experience that the MAJORITY of those professionals have never ever listened for themselves in an IEC standard hearing loop system. So how can they make an intelligent choice much less advise their clients and parents? Many also fail to educate these clients of the ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) or refer to the Hearing Loss Association of… Read more »