Bec Bennett, audiologist at Ear Science Institute Australia, holds a modern hearing aid. Picture: Simon Santi/The West Australian
If a person is diagnosed with hearing loss, what happens next? According to Bec Bennett, aural rehabilitation is the process of facilitating better hearing through use of devices, education and/or listening training.
Assistive listening devices (ALDs) could be used with or without hearing aids, according to Ms Bennett, audiologist and manager of audiological services for the Ear Science Institute of Australia and Lions Hearing Clinics.
“If someone is only having difficulties with the TV, then we will talk about headphones and subtitles rather than paying for an expensive hearing aid,” she said.
For problems hearing on the telephone, there are devices to strap on to the handset for amplification.
“Also, we talk to our clients a lot about options like Skype and text messaging,” she said.
TTY telephones divert the conversation through a switchboard and the incoming message is typed on to a screen.
Hearing strategies are methods that people can use to increase their understanding of speech, including reducing background noise.
Hearing aids are another step. The defining feature of modern types of hearing aids is that they are usually digital personal amplifiers that are worn at ear level. They are smaller, neater and hidden, and are a minicomputer able to remove noise from the signal and make speech more audible and pleasant.
There are some that you can insert and leave in for four months, enabling you to sleep, swim and shower with them in.
“Modern hearing aids can be tuned in for each specific person far more accurately than other devices, giving a custom ‘sound fit’ for each person,” Ms Bennett said. “Keep in mind that hearing aids come in a wide range of brands, size, power, style, colour and technology levels.”
Most hearing aid batteries will last one to two weeks. For people with dexterity problems, using aids that do not require regular battery changing can be helpful. Small long-term cost savings are possible when using rechargeable batteries. Some aids do not require batteries.
With wireless technology advances, premium hearing instruments can increasingly communicate with other devices. Sound can be streamed from mobile telephones, television and hi-fi systems straight into the ears.
For people considering more advanced hearing aids, the addition of a body-worn Bluetooth pendant may be helpful.
Most modern hearing aids require far less manual control than their predecessors and, therefore, onboard switches and remote controls are not as common.
However, some hearing aid wearers will prefer or need to retain manual control. For people with dexterity issues (for example, arthritis or loss of digital sensitivity), a remote control may be easier to use than the smaller controls on a hearing aid.
Finally, there is the option of implantable devices, which can include a cochlear implant, or an implant into the middle ear, or an implant into the brain stem.