Managing Hearing Loss in the Digital Age
Hearing loss is one of the most common forms of sensory impairment in the UK and in the western world. The biggest cause, affecting approximately 80% of the over 70s, is linked directly to natural changes in the body that we cannot prevent. As the body ages, parts of the ear that are essential to the hearing process can deteriorate in their functioning, leading to impaired hearing. Thankfully modern healthcare (NHS and private companies) offers a growing number of digital aids to manage the condition.
Our inner ear houses a great number of tiny hair cells that are designed to capture sound information. Once captured, the information is immediately transmitted to the brain for processing. As the body ages some areas of hair cells can deteriorate and die. New hair cells do not form to replace the malfunctioning ones and hearing can gradually worsen until it has a real impact on quality of life. Digital amplification offers a real option to manage the resultant hearing loss and compensate for the loss in hair cell functioning. A variety of digital devices are available, the main aim of which is to amplify incoming sound, so that it is audible and comfortable for the hearing impaired person to hear.
The biggest group of digital aids is made up of hearing aids. These are small electronic devices that fit into or around the ear. External sound is picked up using sensitive microphone/s and quickly processed and amplified using advanced software and hardware. The sound is then delivered directly into the ear canal where it follows the usual path through the hearing system to the brain. Hearing aids come in four different fitting designs, most commonly to fit behind the wearer’s ear or to fit completely inside the wearer’s ear. They are available on the high street, online and from the NHS, though the NHS does not generally offer any in-the-ear models.
Other increasingly popular amplification devices are specially designed phones that offer loud ringer and loud voice amplification. These corded, cordless and even mobile phone vary from your normal BT type phone in that the receiver volume can add an extra 60dB of volume to incoming voice compared to most standard phones that can add around 8dB volume; and the external ringer tones can top those of standard phones by as much as 20 times. In addition to these features, many such phones are already adapted for the elderly with impaired vision (another byproduct of ageing) so depending on the unit, you may also see flashing light to indicate an incoming call and even a vibration pad that can be placed under a pillow for example. Further yet, a few models feature extra large keypads and back-lit buttons to help those with vision problems.
If you are concerned about your hearing or for the hearing of someone you care for, address those concerns by attending a hearing test. A full diagnostic test will measure your current hearing level against what is regarded as ‘normal’ and will help to determine the cause(s) behind the hearing loss. In most cases hearing tests are free and quick.
Written by Joan McKechnie BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology.