Winning the War against Hearing Loss, part 4: Hearing Well with a Cell Phone

Bob Martin
July 14, 2015

By: Bob Martin, AuD

Miracles happen in our field. Last time I discussed Kim who, thanks to her hearing aids, was able to work in a noisy bar and save her family’s home.

This week, I want you to meet David, a real estate agent with severe hearing loss. In the past he could not hear well with his cell phone, which is an essential tool in his occupation. Now, thanks to modern technology and an Audiologist’s skill, David has no trouble using his cell phone to do business, and background noise no longer interferes with his hearing

His ability to communicate via cell phone, which used to be poor, is now normal. If you ask David, “How do you hear with your cell phone?,” he’ll tell you, “Spectacularly. It’s a miracle!”

The Path to Success


To understand this fitting, let’s start with a step-by-step account.

Step one: Eliminate all background noise.

David has severe hearing loss, and his hearing aids are fitted with occluding earmolds. If he is in a noisy environment and he turns his hearing aids off, he can hear nothing at all. Think about this concept for a moment; it is very important! The combination of his poor hearing and effective noise plugs (the earmolds) eliminates environment noise.

Step two: Introduce a crystal-clear telephone signal.

The telephone signal needs to be programmed (shaped) by an experienced audiologist or hearing aid specialist. The frequency response and gain must be carefully adjusted for each ear, and most of the high-tech “automatic” features of the hearing aid have to be de-activated. The result is what I call “professionally crafted sound.” It is very different from the software-generated program created by first-fit software.

Step three: Deliver this signal to both ears.
The combination of eliminating all background noise and providing a loud, clear phone signal adds up to success. Using this approach gives many patients excellent word understanding over their cell phone.

All the elements of this fitting are critical, so if you eliminate one, the fitting will not work. Here they are:

  • Earmolds occlude the ears and work as noise plugs.
  • The patient controls the volume setting.
  • The microphones on the hearing aids are turned off.
  • The patient’s hearing must be “poor enough” in the low frequencies that he/she does not hear background noise and “good enough” in the high frequencies that he/she has excellent word understanding.
  • The amplified sound (the incoming telephone signal) is individually shaped for the patient’s ears by an experienced professional—not by an auto-fit program.
  •  The telephone signal is sent to both ears.
  •  Most high-tech features in the hearing aid must be de-activated for this program: sound comfort, wind noise reduction, automatic gain control, etc. You do not want to apply compression or other sophisticated processing to a signal that has already been compressed and manipulated by the telephone company.

Cell phone use is a critically important part of David’s job as a real estate agent. Before this technology became available, he was struggling at work, and feared that he would have to change professions. He lost several clients who were looking to buy a home. “In a slow market,” he said, “You cannot afford to lose sales.”

Now, however, with this new technology David hears well with his cell phone and is successful at work again. It’s a miracle.

In my next article, I’ll introduce you to Judy.

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