Hearables

When hearing aids don’t work

Photo credit: ikesters licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

Many people with hearing difficulties delay getting help because they’re told hearing aids don’t work. But in my experience, properly fitted hearing aids can improve communication and quality of life for people with hearing difficulties.

Hearing aids are worn on each ear and come in different styles. Prescription hearing aids are selected so amplified sound and chosen features are best for all shapes and sizes of hearing difficulties in all ages. Retail hearing aids are meant for adults with mild to moderate high pitch hearing loss which is a common pattern across causes.

There are different reasons people think hearing aids don’t work. Some issues depend on the hearing aids, while others depend on the person wearing them. Unless there is a health reason that requires that they only wear one, it’s best to get a pair. Like ears, hearing aids should be in pairs for best sound audibility, localization, and communication.

Were the hearing aids fit by a hearing healthcare professional? If yes, then they were chosen to work based on individual testing results and the person’s reported difficult listening situations in daily life. Retail hearing aids won’t work if the wearer doesn’t have mild to moderate high pitch hearing loss.

Do the hearing aids have basic hearing and communication features? Basic or entry level prescription or retail hearing aids should include directional microphones for paired hearing benefits and a telecoil or hearing loop feature. Hearing aids without directional microphones won’t work well in daily life, and hearing aids without hearing loop compatibility won’t work in settings offering disability access.

Do the hearing aids offer modern digital technology? Current entry level features in behind the ear hearing aids, which start at around $1,000 per pair, include more than one listening program for quieter and noisier environments and wireless connectivity to other devices. Some hearing aids include sound therapy for people with tinnitus or decreased sound tolerance, i.e., hyperacusis. Many now have rechargeable batteries with an overnight recharging station which is a plus for convenience and the environment. Old technology hearing aids don’t work nearly as well as modern technology aids.

Were the hearing aids properly manufactured? Even brand new hearing aids can be lemons. While prescription hearing aid manufacturers typically meet international amplification acoustics standards, quality control is voluntary for manufacturers selling directly to the public with no Food and Drug Administration oversight in the U.S. Problems are common even among popular retail manufacturers, with defect rates of 100% for amplification under $150 and 66% defective when under $500 per hearing aid. New amplification sound quality problems include static and distortion, over-amplified or too loud, no high frequency amplification, broken volume control, malfunctioning directional microphones, and faulty telecoils. In my opinion, too many hearing aids sold directly to the public are poorly made and don’t work as advertised.

Does the wearer have hearing system distortion? Some people, especially with a history of noise exposure, have hearing loss with sound processing damage where sound becomes distorted or unclear while travelling up the hearing nerves to the brain. This happens after sound is amplified, meaning people feel their hearing aids don’t work because they still can’t hear or converse easily, especially in ambient environmental noise environments.

Are the hearing aids In-The-Drawer style? ITD style hearing aids worn only seldom or occasionally don’t help much. People with hearing loss need to practice hearing amplified sound again in their daily life. With regular use, people hear better with amplification than without, even in noisy or difficult listening situations.

The next time somebody says hearing aids don’t work, don’t forget there is often more to the story. Did the person get well manufactured hearing aids that meet their individual hearing and communication needs? Do they have realistic expectations of hearing aids? If not, a visit to a hearing healthcare professional could be helpful for problem-solving and guidance.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

Low-cost hearing aid developed

Photo credit: Phil Gradwell licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss is a major problem in much of the world but few of the world’s total population can afford hearing care or hearing aids of any kind.

The World Bank estimates that 700 million people live on less than $2 a day. Daily life is a struggle. Providing food is a struggle. Preventing hearing loss is not even considered, and there are no resources to treat even profound hearing loss. Many African countries lack a single audiologist or ENT specialist.

My own observation during international travel, back in the old days when that was possible for someone holding an American passport, is that many developing countries–Myanmar and India come to mind–were much noisier than the U.S. or Europe. Unmuffled car motors are repurposed to power boats, and workers in noisy occupations like blacksmithing or metal work don’t use hearing protection.

Into the gap come the engineers from Georgia Tech, who have developed a low-cost hearing aid that can be assembled quickly. They call this LocHAid.

In the industrialized world, people don’t want a large hearing aid worn around the neck, but in developing countries, this would be a blessing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Companies urged to hire “Chief Sound Officers”

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My first reaction to this article by Frank Fitzpatrick in Forbes advising companies to hire “Chief Sound Officers” was that the author’s tongue was firmly planted in his cheek. But no, he’s making some very valid points that corporate leaders could learn from: sound matters to business in lots of ways that deserve consideration.

As Fitzpatrick says, “You may not be in the sound business, but sound is in your business.” He notes that ambient noise level in retail spaces and workplaces has important effects on customer behavior and satisfaction, and on employee satisfaction and productivity.

I’m most taken by his discussion of hearables technologies coming to market now like the Apple iWatch with built-in sound meter. But there’s much more than that coming out of R&D labs to connect biometric data to wearable technologies on the assumption that informed consumers are more likely to be healthier too.

As Dr. Daniel Fink says: if it sounds loud, it is TOO loud. But if you’re used to ignoring noise, having a warning system on your wrist, a wearable device like an iWatch with a built-in sound meter, could be very helpful, and if enough people use it, that would be good for public health.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Harvard Medical School looks at hearing and brain health

Photo credit: A Health Blog licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Harvard Medical School publishes a number of useful, consumer-oriented newsletters and blogs on issues related to health. Sometimes they touch on noise-induced hearing loss and other hearing-related concerns. In this recent blog, James Maple, MD, discusses hearing health and its relationship to brain function. If you’re looking for some insight into this issue that avoids the hype, this is a good place to start. Research has recently shown that there is a clear correlation between diminished hearing and decline in cognitive function. Research is ongoing to determine whether there is a clear causal link between the two and how it might work. What is clear is that that preventing hearing loss is important.

An earlier article in this same publication gives an overview of the emerging market for personal sound amplification products, a market that opened last month thanks to the Warren-Grassley Act passed in 2017 and signed into law in 2018.  This law enables high tech “hearing assistive devices” to be sold over the counter without a prescription at drug stores, via online stores, etc.—for 1/10th the price of typical hearing aids. So now for a few hundred dollars you can purchase hearing assistive devices, try them out, and decide whether they’ll help you (or someone you know whom you suspect needs them). This article provides a useful, non-hyped description of PSAPs that makes good background reading before you begin shopping.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Hearing assistive devices shine at Consumer Electronics Show

Photo credit: Gb11111 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’ve pointed out in earlier blogs to a once-in-a-generation convergence of technology, deregulation, and finance, that is fueling a boom in new hearing assistive devices. That convergence showed up this week at the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show as a handful of new products worth looking at.

This year’s offerings point to a growing cornucopia of new hearables products aimed at our ears—for the first time in decades. And that is a positive indicator that the long moribund, underinvested space of hearing health is attracting global attention. Which is good news for researchers, manufacturers, and consumers.

You’ve already read here about our partner, Richard Neitzel, PhD, from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, who’s working with Apple Inc. on Apple’s new iPhone/iWatch noise-warning app. And you’ve read here about SoundPrint and iHearU and our partner, Antonella Radicchi’s Hush City app and others. We wish them all success!

At this rate it’s going to be hard to keep up! For some of us it’s pure excitement to watch the acoustical/hearing products industry come alive again after forty years in the doldrums!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

American Girl’s 2020 doll of the year

Photo credit: Courtesy of American Girl

by Caroline Masia

On December 31, 2019, Good Morning America announced to the world the American Girl Doll of the year for 2020. Her name is Joss Kendrick, a surfer gal and a cheerleader from Southern California. At first glance, she might look like your typical California girl with beautiful auburn hair, a fit surfer body and beautifully tanned skin. But Joss is different from the other American Girl Dolls. She has hearing aids that you can clearly see circling around her ears and she is proudly showing them off.

When I first saw the Good Morning America annoucement, my heart leapt and I felt proud of the American Girl Doll company for coming out with a doll who has hearing loss. I have hearing loss. I was born deaf and got my first cochlear implant at sixteen months and my second when I was seven years old. Growing up, there was no doll in the market that had hearing aids or cochlear implants. In fact, there was no doll out there that had any sort of differences. Instead, when I returned home from my surgery, I found that my sister had “rigged” up several of her dolls by fashioning “cochlear implants” out of buttons and other materials, so that I could have a doll that looked like me.

It is wonderful to finally have dolls that represent the population more realistically and is also commendable because American Girl is now helping to normalize differences. Everyone faces challenges. And all girls are beautiful. By creating a doll with a hearing impairment, American Girl makes that statement loud and clear!

Caroline Masia is currently in her third year at the University of Central Florida studying exceptional education. She is very active with the Jewish community on campus and is involved with the American Sign Language club. After college, Caroline hopes to teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing and help to make a difference in their lives.

Thanks to Sherilyn Adler, PhD, of the Ear Peace: Save Your Hearing Foundation, an educational nonprofit, for assisting The Quiet Coalition with this piece. TQC is proud to regard Dr. Adler and her group as partners in its work on preventing hearing loss.

No hearing aids leads to divorce

Photo credit: Steve Johnson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is refusing to get needed hearing aids grounds for divorce? For Tina Welling, writing in The New York Times’ Modern Love column, it was.

She and her now ex-husband reached what appears for them to be a reasonable solution–they divided their house into two separate apartments, but they remain friends and sometimes walk their respective dogs together–but to me divorce seems to be a radical solution to a spouse’s hearing loss. As the writer explains, though, her husband’s refusal to get the hearing aids he needed crystalized her feelings about the marriage and made its problems unavoidable, so she took what she thought was necessary action after 52 years of marriage.

Studies show that there is a stigma to hearing loss and to wearing hearing aids, and that the average older person needing them waits 7 to 10 years before getting them. This isn’t rational–as this interview from the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst site discusses, you’re still old, with or without hearing aids.

Other research shows that only about a third of older Americans who really need hearing aids get them.

And now, research is underway to see if wearing hearing aids prevents or delays the onset of dementia.

My advice: if you or a loved one needs hearing aids, don’t get a divorce. Get hearing aids instead!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Starting January, help comes to the hard of hearing at your local drug store

Photo credit: Kateweb licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article is a wake-up call to all Americans with hearing loss: Starting January 2020, and for 1/10th the price of conventional–and ugly–hearing aids, you can buy “hearing assistive devices” at your local drug store or directly online. The innovation economy has finally come to the hidebound hearing aid industry!

And we can thank a genuinely bi-partisan team in Congress for making this happen. Charles Grassley, Republican from Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, teamed up in late 2016 to write the “Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act,” pushed it through both houses of Congress, and in 2017 convinced President Trump to sign it.

Thank you Senators Grassley and Warren!

What this Act does is tell the FDA to keep its regulatory hands off of a new class of hearing-assistive devices called “personal sound amplification products,” or PSAPs. PSAPs are miniaturized, multi-featured wireless high-tech in-ear devices that do lots of things conventional hearing aids don’t do, and all for about 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Maybe deregulation works after all!  In this case, it’s good-old-fashioned bi-partisanship that got the deal done.

So if you or a loved one really need hearing aids but haven’t been able or willing to spend the $5,000 to $10,000 the hearing aid cartel has been charging, now’s your chance to tune into the world of sounds you or they have been missing. Check it out!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Will the nation’s young be obese with hearing loss, too?

Photo credit: Gavin Whitner licensed under CC by 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I recently read a report via AMA Wire citing a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that estimates 57% of today’s young people will be obese by age 35. One wonders how many of them, after two or three decades of listening to music from tablets or personal music players using ear buds or headphones, will also suffer hearing loss.

As long as the regulators are asleep at the wheel, and the American Association of Pediatrics fails to adequately educate parents about the dangers of hearing loss from noise exposure, I guess we’ll find out in a few decades as today’s children sign up to be fitted with hearing aids. Despite concerns about earbud and headphone abuse among children, the AAP doesn’t have sufficient information about the dangers of noise exposure for children on its healthychildren.org website.

And, meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has declined to take action on the basis of false advertising for headphones marketed as “safe” for hearing of children as young as age three using an 85 decibel volume limit, even though a 85 A-weighted decibels is an occupational noise exposure standard–meant for adult workers–and A-weighting usually reduces measured sound levels by 5-7 decibels. The pediatricians say nothing about these unsafe headphones.

Twenty to thirty years from now, will today’s children wonder why the government and medical professionals sat on their hands and watched as they slowly destroyed their hearing, doing little or nothing to protect those who didn’t know better on their own?

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Google defeated by Brooklyn

Photo credit: dumbonyc licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

But the Pixel buds weren’t a total failure, as the duo found the translator worked better in quiet rooms. Which is great if you are traveling to a mythical land of quiet and the local language is preloaded in the accompanying app, but not so much for the real world.
Maybe instead of relying on some hardware and an app to do the heavy lifting, one could struggle with a phrase book and charm/offend the locals like people have been doing forever? Personally, we think there shouldn’t be a “tech solution” for everything. That said, hey Google, how about working on bringing some quiet to city streets? It’s in your self-interest, after all.