Most hard-of-hearing people derive substantial benefit from wearing hearing aids. Unfortunately, there are a few hard-of-hearing people who have such severe hearing loss that they cannot use hearing aids successfully. This article is written for these folks.
However, before deciding that your hearing is so “bad” that hearing aids can’t help you, be sure you have consulted with at least two different, experienced audiologists who agree with this assessment. I have seen many patients who, after owning one or two pairs of poorly fitted hearing aids, concluded that their hearing was “beyond hope.” Yet, often they were able to benefit from appropriately fitted instruments.
When in doubt, get a good pair of hearing aids from an experienced audiologist on “trial.”
BEYOND HEARING AIDS
The following information is for people who really do have “very poor” hearing—so poor that hearing aids are not the solution—at least not a total solution.
There are many resources available to such people. The following is a brief summary of some of them. I discussed this topic at greater length in my June 1999 Nuts & Bolts article in The Hearing Journal, entitled “What to tell your patient when hearing aids are not enough.”
- FM systems: An FM system is a type of communication device often used in school classrooms for hard-of-hearing children. The teacher wears a microphone and a transmitter. The student wears a “receiver” unit that is attached to his/her hearing aid. The FM system delivers the speaker’s voice directly, clearly into the hearing aid wearer’s ears. The room noise is not transmitted to the student, only the teacher’s voice. This is an excellent system not only for students, but also for anyone else who needs to hear and communicate with one person, e.g., a spouse. FM is not so good when you need to hear and communicate with several different people, e.g., friends at a party.
- Bluetooth technology: The traditional FM system—discussed in the preceding paragraph—has a microphone and a transmitter, and a receiver attached to hearing Recently, systems have became available that use Bluetooth technology rather than FM transmission. The result is the same, i.e., excellent delivery of one person’s voice. This new transmission system costs much less than traditional FM if you purchase the transmitter when you purchase a new set of hearing aids.
- Closed-captioned telephone: Most people know about closed captioning for television—a technology that shows the printed words of the audio signal on the TV screen. There is also a wonderful new technology that provides captions for telephones, just as captioning provides the words for the TV. These phones use high-speed Internet and the services of a translator. When I use one of these phones and someone calls me, I see the words printed in large type on the screen of my special telephone. This is especially helpful when someone is giving you lengthy, hard-to-hear instructions, e.g., “Be at Dorothy’s house at 8793 Willington Street at 3:30 next Saturday.”
- Assistive devices: Many products, such as smoke alarms, doorbells, and alarm clocks, have been modified for use by people with severe or profound hearing loss. The sound has been amplified, and, in some cases, flashing lights and vibrators have been attached to the primary unit. There are many such devices available and a Google search will uncover a long list of products and providers.
- Group support: There are several groups that offer support for people with severe hearing loss. Probably the best known is the Hearing Loss Association of America (formerly Self Help for Hard of Hearing People or SHHH). This national organization has more than 200 state and local chapters around the country.
- Cochlear implants: These surgically implanted units bypass the eardrum, middle ear, and inner-ear hair cells and directly stimulate the hearing nerve with mild electrical signals. This type of equipment is designed for people with severe-to-profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants are not generally recommended for people who benefit from hearing aid use. Before you decide to have a cochlear implant, do some research, and talk to several people who have them. Also, make sure the surgeon who is going to do your implant has lots of experience doing the procedure. Also, you need to understand the importance of doing extensive therapy after receiving the implant. The sound has to be “tuned” for you and you have to work with your audiologist to get used to the new sound.
A final word of advice: There are many high-quality sources of information on the Internet, but also many very low-quality information sources. Many online “frauds” promise quick solutions to severe hearing problems. Before trying any “quick fix,” talk to your doctor, your hearing professional, and your family and friends about the idea. It pays to be careful.