Winning the War Against Hearing Loss, part 8: Enabling the Almost Deaf to Hear
Bob Martin
September 8, 2015

The articles in this continuing series are all about miracles. Previously, I told you about Kim, David, Dr. Judy, Sam, and Michael & Ann. Our story today is about Sandy, a design engineer who works for a large manufacturing company. She has no functional hearing in her left ear and a profound hearing loss in her right.

Sandy has struggled throughout her life with inadequate hearing. She used a large, powerful BTE hearing aid and described the quality of her aided hearing as poor. “Mostly, I do a lot of lip reading,” she told me.

Crisis entered Sandy’s life recently from two different directions.

First, she was assigned a large multi-year project at work. She was excited. The task was in her area of expertise and she loved these projects. Unfortunately, the man she was assigned to work with speaks softly with a strong foreign accent. She was unable to understand him with her current hearing aid.

Sandy’s second crisis was even more important. Her daughter became seriously ill. Sandy needed to hear the doctors treating her daughter, and she needed to hear and understand her daughter, who speaks quietly.

“I can’t stand it,” she told me, “when a doctor asks me an important question and I have to ask her to repeat the question. And,” she added, shaking her head, “my daughter just glares at me when I ask her to repeat.”

From a hearing point of view, Sandy needed a miracle.




The computer chip used in today’s hearing aids is tiny, smaller than a pea. This computer chip is 100 to 1000 times smaller than standard computer chips. It operates at super-high speed so it can process human speech in real time. The chip is “shock resistant” with stable built-in memory, so dropping it or removing the battery does not reset the program. And it operates on very low voltage.

The digitization of sound–both human speech and surrounding noise–allows us to apply many powerful engineering tools to hearing aids. These include signal detection, bandwidth enhancement, and dozens of other engineering specialties.

From a production point of view, these hearing aids chips are affordable. They do not cost hundreds of dollars apiece. The industry is using them to build fantastic hearing aids.




The other great news in hearing aid manufacturing is the incorporation of Bluetooth technology. It works like AM and FM, but is much less expensive. FM transmitters and receivers can add more than $2000 to the retail price of a new hearing instrument. Adding a similar Bluetooth system costs roughly $200.

I fit Sandy with an RIC (receiver-in-the-canal) hearing aid and a power, custom-made receiver. She wears a small “streamer” around her neck that connects to Bluetooth transmissions. When Sandy talks to her daughter or her co-worker, they wear a Bluetooth transmitter and an attached microphone. As a result, Sandy receives loud, clear, noise-free, distortion-free speech. The system works!

I asked Sandy if she thought her new hearing aid system was a miracle. She thought seriously about the question then said, “There are times in life you have to hear. You absolutely have to hear. When your child is very sick and they are struggling, you cannot ask her to repeat.”

“And were you able to hear?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “Thank you.”

I did not badger Sandy on the question of miracle or no miracle. I simply accepted her gratitude. But, in the emotional color and tremble in her voice, I could hear the sound of a baseball being hit way over the right field fence. From my point of view, this was a home run. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

Time Magazine recently rated audiology as the best job in America.

That’s what happens when you create miracles for people.

feature photo from new sound

  1. I would agree that individuals such as the one you describe are in need of something almost miraculous. I’m sure that there are many more details about this patient than are covered in a brief narrative such as this. Based only on the limited description, however, I would argue that from a hearing perspective she needed a cochlear implant. I wonder why there was no mention that this wasn’t considered?

  2. For some of us with profound losses, especially ones who listen to or play music, the fidelity of CI’s is not acceptable. I have a pair of BT high power aids and with proper programming, even with wireless, music fidelity is very good within the range of what hearing that is left.

  3. Don’t forget Sandy is an engineer, which automatically means she’s tech-savvy. Like Rick Ledbetter (comment below) he’s a self-programmer, and Sandy would be a candidate for this as well. This is really handy for reconfiguring the wireless accessory operation (such as HA/DM mix ratio): ReSound provides this mix ratio flexibility with their Control and Smart apps; however with Phonak you need to go into the Target software to make the tweaks.

    The first thing I would do for Sandy, however, is get her a CapTel 2400i or CaptionCall phone (which you now order directly from NOAH!), as they both have very good, customizible amplifiers where you plug in the audiogram, for up to 140dB(!) output.

    Dan Schwartz
    Editor, The Hearing Blog

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