Wireless hearing aid accessories are opening doors for our patients. They are designed to improve listening in situations that have been challenging for hearing aids, including the television, stereo, PC, MP3 player and significant others. For the phone, they improve the signal-to-noise ratio and speech understanding by virtue of the routing the conversation to both ears simultaneously (Picou and Ricketts, 2010). But how do we incorporate them into our clinical protocols? Where do they fit in the hearing aid practice? How can they be effectively promoted and positioned for what they are: accessories which maximize hearing aid benefit for the user?
Hillary Snapp offered a very comprehensive answer to these questions in her presentation at the Advantages in Amplification Online Symposium, presented by ReSound, in November, 2011. To effectively incorporate wireless technology in the clinic, she suggested the following:
- Administer the QuickSIN (Etymotic Research) and subjective questionnaires during the evaluation visit to gain a better understanding of the patient’s problems discriminating speech in noise. If significant problems are identified, wireless technology can be introduced during counseling.
- Introduce wireless accessories at the follow-up visit after the hearing aids are fitted, to avoid overwhelming the patient with too much information too quickly.
- Demonstrate wireless accessory benefits to the patient by playing a DVD or television program without and with the accessory. Enlist the help of significant others by having them adjust the program to a comfortable level, and contrasting that level with the level that is most comfortable for the hearing aid user. Then with the level set comfortably for the significant other, stream the program signal to the patient’s hearing aids through the wireless accessory to show the additional clarity and boost in the signal-to-noise ratio. For an external microphone accessory, clip the accessory to the significant other or another speaker and increase the distance between the significant other and the user, up to 20 feet. This will demonstrate the distance that can be reached without degradation of the speech signal, and call attention to the additional benefits of being able to hear what the significant other is saying even in a different room in the home. Demonstrate phone accessory usage by having the significant other call the hearing aid user from a different room in the clinic, or have the user dial a movie information line such as Moviefone (http://www.moviefone.com/777-FILM). This will promote the benefits of binaural, feedback-free listening on the phone.
- Mitigate time constraints with the patient by pairing wireless accessories to the hearing aids and the fitting software before the patient arrives. This will maximize the time you have to counsel about accessory usage and fine tune the settings with the patient.
- Use subjective questionnaires to validate the effectiveness of wireless accessories and hearing aids at follow-up visits, or through other methods of staying in contact with your patients.
A final point is not to make snap judgments about which types of patients are the prime candidates for wireless technology. Although wireless accessory marketing materials may show hearing aid users who are young, professional, and active, your older patients ought not to be discounted. Wireless technology can be most advantageous when limited mobility is an issue. One example is for the external microphone that can be used by a significant other to communicate with the hearing aid user even from a different room in the home. The television/stereo accessories can enable hearing aid users to enjoy entertainment with loved ones without straining to hear or completely losing the ability to communicate during the program. The phone accessory improves listening abilities with speakers who are typically difficult to hear, such as young grandchildren. All of these benefits combat the spectre of social isolation due to hearing difficulties, which can be especially troubling for the older patient.
Wireless accessories have hit the hearing aid market, and appear to be here to stay. Their benefits are easy to perceive and to demonstrate to patients. While they are still to be regarded as accessories, a sidekick to the superhero hearing aids to which they are paired, they can undoubtedly provide improved solutions to the most difficult listening situations encountered by hearing aid users.
Etymotic Research: QuickSIN Online User Manual. Available at: http://www.etymotic.com/pdf/quicksin-manual.pdf. Accessed: February 23, 2012.
Picou EM & Ricketts TA. Comparison of wireless and acoustic hearing aid based telephone listening strategies. Ear and Hearing, 2010; 31(6), 1-12.
Snapp, 2011. Wireless technology – adoption and incorporation for your practice. Presentation, Advantages in Amplification Online Seminar Presented by ReSound, Audiology Online, November 7-11, 2011.