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Resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Where do you turn if you suddenly wake up deaf or hard of hearing?  There are many resources out there, but you would have no reason to be aware of them before this sudden, unexpected and devastating turn of events.  I’ve compiled a list of local San Diego resources with links to help you find similar programs in your area.  I have also listed a few online resources.  If you would like to recommend other resources, please enter a comment below.

help-button
Hearing Loss Association of America-San Diego Chapter

www.hearinglosssandiego.org
Meets on the third Saturday of every month at 10:30 – 12:30 at the LiveWell Center, 4425 Bannock Ave. For more information contact hlaasd@gmail.com
Find an HLAA chapter near you

Deaf Community Services of San Diegowww.deafcommunityservices.org
An agency that advocates, educates, and serves the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.  Services include mental health services, information and referral, employment services, and adult literacy programs.  (619) 398-2441
Find a similar program in your state.

National Center for Deaf Advocacywww.ncda-usa.or
Services include mental health services, deaf family violence prevention programs, legal services, education and leadership programs.  (619) 456-9609 V; (619) 272-4295 VP

Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) – www.rehab.cahwnet.gov
The California Department of Rehabilitation works in partnership with consumers and other stakeholders to provide services and advocacy resulting in employment, independent living and equality for individuals with disabilities.
(619) 767-2100 V; (619) 767-2159 (TTY)  Find an office in your state.

Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Programwww.ddtp.org
Provides free specialized phones from the California Telephone Access Program (CTAP)   1-800-806-1191
Find a program in your state.

DeafandHoH – www.deafandhoh.com
Deafandhoh.com’s goal is to help people with hearing loss connect and learn from each other in a positive and open environment. This site focuses on social networking, resources, medical research and technology.

Hear Gearwww.heargear.net
A source for assisted listening devices, resources and information.  Resources include videos, articles and links for more information about hearing loss.

The Center for Hearing Loss Helpwww.hearinglosshelp.com
Provides counsel, support, books and selected quality products to help deal with hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)www.hearingloss.org
Excellent website with educational material, resources, links, blogs, newsletters and more.  Join HLAA and receive the “Hearing Loss Magazine” and state newsletter.  (301) 657-2248

Which TV listening device will work with my TV???

Finding the right TV listening device for your TV can be very confusing.  Here are some guidelines.  For a description of the different types of TV listening systems, see “TV Listening Systems – 5 Types

Most of the TV listening devices and home hearing loops are designed to connect to the TV with analog audio-out jacks.  These are red and white RCA jacks labeled “audio out”.  They are usually on the back of the TV.  The words “audio out” or “out” must be written near the jacks.  If not, it is an “analog audio-in jack” and will not work.

         

If your TV doesn’t have these, check the back of your cable box.  The cable box should have the red and white RCA jacks.

The newer digital TV’s have a digital audio-out jack, usually labeled “digital audio-out (optical).”

       

You can see the digital audio out-jack on the top left in this picture (in the small white square).

Some of the newer TV listening systems come with both digital and analog cables such as:

If your TV does not have the red and white RCA analog audio-out jacks, you must purchase a TV listening system that can connect to your TV via the digital audio-out jack.  You can also buy a digital to analog converter at an electronics store.

Most home hearing loop systems connect to analog audio-out jacks.  The InLoop 600 comes with both digital and analog inputs.

If you would like help selecting the best TV listening system for your needs, please call me at 619 316-1817.  I would be glad to help you!

Purchasing Hearing Aids Online

In my last two blog posts, “When is a hearing aid not a hearing aid?” and  “Personal Sound Amplification Products -  PSAP’s,”  I have been discussing ear-level amplification products that are sold online or over-the-counter.  The products listed below are all FDA approved hearing aids.  I have been researching these products for the purpose of learning about them and sharing this information with you; however, as I stated in my previous post, anyone who suspects they have a hearing loss should see an ENT.  There may be a serious medical condition causing the hearing loss or there may be a simple problem such as wax in the ears.  This should always be the first step in searching for a solution to hearing loss.  I also believe that whenever possible, a hearing aid should be purchased from an audiologist.

The reasons for purchasing a hearing aid from an audiologist are well-stated in this article by David Kirkwood:  “AAA kit helps audiologists make the case against direct-to-consumer hearing aid sales.”

Hearing aids are medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must be recommended and prescribed by licensed professionals. This standard is in place to protect the individual with hearing loss, as not all individuals are candidates for amplification.

Additionally, an improperly fit hearing aid or hearing aid sold online without a face-to-face evaluation with an audiologist can potentially cause various problems. Without a face-to-face evaluation, the consumer will not have an otoscopic evaluation (have the audiologist look into the ear canal) and medical problems such as ear drainage or ear blockages which can cause hearing loss will not be identified.

Additionally, hearing aids that are not adjusted to the individual needs of the patient have the potential for increasing the hearing loss if the devices are not set appropriately. Lastly, audiologists can tailor a comprehensive treatment plan for each individual patient so as to ensure maximum performance from any device that may be prescribed.”

Having said that, the fact is that hearing aids are very expensive.  People are looking for alternatives.  I have gathered the following information from the websites and talking to customer service representatives.  If you find any information that is inaccurate, please let me know and I will correct it.  I have highlighted some important features in these hearing aids such as t-coils, Bluetooth and analog models (some people prefer analog to digital).  Note that some of these hearing aids are programmed to your hearing loss and others are not.

1.  General Hearing Instruments, Inc. range from $344 – $399 each
1-800-824-3021 (M-F 7:00am – 6:00pm CST)
http://www.generalhearing.com/
No custom programming.
3 digital models – Simplicity (behind-the-ear), Simply Soft (in-the-ear), and Simply Slim (in-the-ear)
Hi Fidelity model is analog.
4 pre-set amplification programs
Sold online at samsclub.com, walmart.com, sears.com
No t-coils.
90-day money back guarantee; 1-year manufacturer warranty, extended warranty available.

2.  Embrace Hearing, range from $400 – $950 each
1-917–830-HEAR (4327) (M-F 9:00am – 6:00pm EST)
http://www.embracehearing.com/
Send your audiogram and they program it.
3 behind-the-ear (BTE) models:  Embrace Base, Embrace X-mini, Embrace Luna.
The Embrace Base is $399, has 2 programs and a t-coil
The X-mini is $599, has 4 programs, and receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) technology, No t-coil.  Basic remote available for $99.
The Luna model is $949, has 6 programs, and has a t-coil, receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) technology and Bluetooth connectivity with Bluetooth remote $299.
45-day money back guarantee; 2 or 3-year manufacturer warranty.
One free reprogramming in the 45-day trial period if you are unhappy with the initial programming.

3.  MD Hearing, range from $120 – $350 each
1-888-670-HEAR (4327) 24 hours/7 days/week
http://www.mdhearingaid.com/
No custom programming.
3 behind-the-ear models, Air, Pro, and Max.
The Air model is $399.99, has 4 preset programs including a t-coil, and volume control.
The Pro model is $179.99, is analog, has 2 preset programs, and volume control,
The Max is $119.99, has a volume control and is a receiver-in-the-ear (RIE) model.  Designed for someone who can’t manipulate small controls..
45-day money back guarantee; 90-day manufacturer warranty; extended warranty available.

4.  Audicus, range from $499 – $649 each
1-888-979-6918 (M-F 9:00 – 6:00 EST)
http://www.audicus.com/
Send your audiogram and they program it.
6 models:  “aBlue,”  “aSamba,”  “aPearl,” aNote,” “aSwing,” and “aSoul,”
(and “aJive” which is a PSAP, not a hearing aid)
See their website for features.  Not all models are listed on home page.  Use the search box to find details of each model.  Of note is the aBlue and the ASwing.
The aBlue model is $599, behind-the-ear (BTE) style.  It has Bluetooth connectivity when used with the Bluetooth controller for $299.  The Bluetooth controller comes with a Bluetooth transmitter that may be used on the TV and other audio devices.
The “aSwing” is $499, BTE style and has a t-coil.
45-day money back guarantee; 1-year manufacturer warranty; extended warranty available.
Free programming adjustments for the lifetime of the product.

5.   hi Health Innovations range from $749 – $949 each
1-855-523-9355 (M-F 9:00am – 5:00pm CST)
https://www.hihealthinnovations.com/
Send your audiogram and they program it.
4 models – hi-ITC, hi BTE mini, hiBTE, hiBTE power
Each model has 3 programs and a volume control.
The hiBTE model has the option of a t-coil and the hiPTE power comes with a t-coil.
70-day money back guarantee;  1-year manufacturer warranty.

If you have tried any of these products or other hearing aids sold online, please leave a comment and let us know how you liked them.

Personal Sound Amplification Products – PSAP’s

You’ve probably seen many ads for listening devices that look just like hearing aids……but sell for about $20!  If you haven’t, just do a search for “hearing aids” on Amazon.  You will see hundreds of devices called “hearing amplifier,” ”sound amplifier,” ” “hearing device,” “hearing enhancement,” etc.  The general term for these devices is Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAP’s).  To learn how they differ from hearing aids, please see my blog post, “When is a hearing aid not a hearing aid?

On Amazon, you will see products ranging from $4.99 – $570 including the very creative “Ear Glasses” for $9.95.  This “high tech” product  consists of two plastic half domes that go behind your ears to capture the sound.  :-)

Ear Glasses 2Ear Glasses

But, seriously, I wouldn’t consider any ear-level amplification product for under $200.  The cheap ones just amplify everything, including background noise, and have very poor sound quality.  However, there are some PSAP’s that have good reviews and at least two brands that include a t-coil.  All the products below claim to use “high-definition digital sound processing” which helps distinguish speech sounds from background noises.  They all offer a trial period and full refund if you are not satisfied, so no harm in trying them out.  I plan to sample some of them, but would really love to receive feedback from anyone who has tried these or similar devices.  Just leave a comment below.

Here is a list of some of the more reputable PSAP’s.  Please note, I am not recommending any of these products.  I am just gathering information and reporting on what I have found.  I recommend purchasing hearing aids from an audiologist, but if you can’t afford it or do not want to spend the money, I think a PSAP is better than doing nothing about your hearing loss.  Before making a purchase, I suggest browsing the websites for more information and calling customer service to learn more about the products.

1.  Etymotic QSA Bean – Retails at $479/each or $858/pair, but currently offering an introductory special at $375/700 (no t-coil). http://www.qsabean.com/buy-now/qsa-bean/
1-888-389-6684 (8:00 – 5:30 CST)
www.qsabean.com   Also available at Amazon.com.
30-day return policy; 1-year warranty.
2 models – the Bean and the T-coil Bean.  The Bean has 2 volume settings.
The T-coil Bean has 1 volume setting and a t-coil setting.  The T-coil Bean is expected to be on the market by the end of November.  No directional mic.

bean 2

2.  Able Planet Personal Amplifiers – $475 – $500/each
1-877-266-1979 (M-F 8:00 – 5:00 MST)
http://hearinghealth.ableplanet.com/personal-sound-amplifiers.html
30-day return policy; 1-year warranty.
In-the-ear model and behind-the-ear model.  None of them have a t-coil.
Sold online and at Brookstone online.  Brookstone sells an extended warranty.
4 preset programs and a volume control.  No directional mic.

Able Planet                   Able Planet smaller

3.  RCA Symphonix – $200 – $300 each
1-888-225-2644 (M-F 9:00 – 5:30 EST)
http://www.rcasymphonix.com
30-day return policy; 6-month limited warranty
Sold online and in Radio Shack stores.
2 models – one is rechargeable; No t-coil.
3 preset programs and a volume control.  No directional mic.

RPSA10_TH

       Symphonix Rechargeable

4.  CS 10 Bluetooth Personal Amplifier - $300 each
1-855-792-0117 (8:30 – 4:30 CST)
http://www.soundworldsolutions.com
30-day return policy; 1-year warranty.
3 preset programs and a volume control.  Has omnidirectional and directional mic.  Preset programs amplify different frequencies and you can program it yourself using an Android smart phone or computer with Bluetooth.
Uses a custom battery that lasts about 9 hours.  If using the Bluetooth feature, will last fewer hours, but comes with 2 rechargeable batteries.
CS10 2

5.  Focus Ear – $479 – $569 each
1-888-233-6678 (M-F 8:00 – 4:00 CST)
www.focusear.com
1 in-the-ear model, 3 behind-the-ear models; RS1 and RS2, have t-coils.
60-day return policy, 2-year warranty, extended warranty may be purchased.
3 or 4 preset programs.  RS2 model has a directional mic.

Focus Ear RS# small                           Focus Ear RS1 small

None of these products are approved by the FDA for use by people with hearing loss.  In my next post, I will review some of the FDA approved hearing aids sold online or over-the-counter.

When is a hearing aid not a hearing aid?

Q:  When is a hearing aid not a hearing aid?

A:  When it is a “Personal Sound Amplification Product” or “PSAP.”

Hit-RISE              Able Planet smaller

Hearing Aid $2,500                          Personal Sound Amplifier $474.50

The FDA defines a hearing aid as “a sound-amplifying device intended to compensate for impaired hearing” but PSAPs “are not intended to make up for impaired hearing. Instead, they are intended for non-hearing-impaired consumers to amplify sounds in the environment for a number of reasons, such as for recreational activities.”

Although, I’m sure the FDA’s intentions are good – they do not want people with hearing loss to harm their hearing by not seeing a doctor and/or by purchasing a device that may not meet their needs…………or worse, may damage their hearing.  However, in reality, many hearing impaired people are buying PSAPs.

According to a study done in 2010, (http://www.betterhearing.org/pdfs/PSAP_study.pdf) “Approximately 1.5 million people with hearing impairment use either direct-mail or personal sound amplifier products (PSAPs) to compensate for their hearing loss.”  This number has surely increased with the many new products on the market.

I decided to research this topic and see what’s out there.  Yikes!  This has become a bigger project than I expected!  In addition to the PSAP’s there are many hearing aids being sold online or over-the-counter.

I will start by saying ANYONE who suspects they have a hearing loss should see an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor – otolaryngologist).  There may be a serious medical condition causing the hearing loss or there may be a simple problem such as wax in the ears.  This should always be the first step in searching for a solution to hearing loss.

According to the Center for Hearing and Communication (http://www.chchearing.org)
–Approximately 12% of the U.S. population or 38 million Americans have a significant hearing loss.
–People with hearing loss wait an average of 7 years before seeking help.
–15 million people in the United States with hearing loss avoid seeking help.

The high cost of hearing aids is probably one of the reasons people avoid seeking help for their hearing loss.  So, it may be a good thing that these less expensive solutions are available.  However, I would approach them with caution!

Personally, I prefer to be treated by an experienced audiologist who has the skills and knowledge to provide me with the best hearing aids for my needs.  I greatly value her expertise, her ability to adjust my hearing aids as needed, and her continued care in tracking my hearing loss over the years.

Having said that, I will share what I learn about PSAP’s in my next blog post.  Stay tuned!

What is a Neckloop?

First the short version:  If you wear hearing aids, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to wear headphones or earbuds.  Neckloops are the “headphones” for hearing aids…..hearing aids with t-coils, that is!  A neckloop wirelessly sends sound into your hearing aids.  The t-coils in your hearing aids act like little speakers in your ears.

Want to know more?  Here’s the long version!

I’m going to use the word “neckloop” here, although really there are other devices such as silhouettes and accessories made by hearing aid manufacturers such as the Widex Dex or the Siemen’s miniTek that function like a neckloop but are not worn around the neck.

If you are not familiar with t-coils please see the t-coil page on my website:  http://www.heargear.net/t-coils

One of the reasons I stress the importance of getting a t-coil in your hearing aids is this allows you to use a neckloop.  The t-coil must be “manual,” not automatic.  You must be able to turn it on yourself using a switch or program button.  All cochlear implants have a manual t-coil, so they are equipped to work with a neckloop.

There are basically two types of neckloops:  Bluetooth and Inductive

  1.  Bluetooth

A Bluetooth neckloop, such as the ClearSounds Quattro Bluetooth Neckloop, can be paired with your cell phone or other Bluetooth capable device.  Most cell phones are Bluetooth capable, so you can pair the neckloop with your cell phone for hands-free conversations.

Quattro

The neckloop has a built-in microphone.  You speak into this microphone and do not need to speak into the phone.   Your cell phone can be in your purse or your pocket while you are speaking.   As when using a headphone, you will be able to hear the speaker in both ears.

The ClearSounds Bluetooth Transmitter can be used with the Bluetooth neckloop.  It can transmit sound from other devices such as a computer, TV, MP3 player, or other sound source.

QLink

  1.  Inductive Neckloops

These come in amplified and non-amplified.  I think the amplified are much better.  They have a battery, a volume control, and create a louder signal.  One example is the ClearSounds CLA7v2 Amplified Neckloop.

HC-CLA7V2

This looks similar to the Bluetooth neckloop, but it has a cord and must be physically connected to the audio source.  This particular neckloop comes with 4 cables to fit 2.5mm and 3.5mm stereo and mono jacks.  It is available for free at the California Telephone Access Program (CTAP) and probably other state telecommunications programs.

Inductive neckloops can plug into any device that has a headphone jack.  It wirelessly sends the sound into both your hearing aids.  They can be used with a personal amplifier, a cell phone, a landline phone, computer, MP3 player, audio books, and more.  Neckloops do not produce sound or amplify sound by themselves.  They must be plugged into an audio source.

The inductive neckloop above is a “generic” neckloop that will work with any model of hearing aids (that have t-coils).  Some hearing aid manufacturers make their own “proprietary” neckloops that only work with their hearing aids.  For more information about these, see my blog post, “Shopping for a Hearing Aid.”

Shopping for a New Hearing Aid – An Update

I have previously posted information about shopping for a hearing aid which I divided into several consecutive posts.  I have had so many people ask my advice on what hearing aid to buy that I am re-posting this information in one long post.  I have updated and modified the original. 

Please note:  I am not an audiologist.  These are my opinions based on my experience, my preferences and my research.  Always check with a qualified audiologist or hearing aid specialist to find the best hearing aid for your hearing loss and your needs.

Shopping for a New Hearing Aid

 We are bombarded with ads for hearing aids that say, “our smallest hearing aid,” “completely invisible,”  “tiny,” “discrete,” “inconspicuous,” “no one will know you are wearing hearing aids,” etc. etc.  These ads infuriate me!   They are reinforcing the idea that wearing a hearing aid is something to be ashamed of, something to keep hidden and private.  What these ads are NOT telling you is that “small” is not going to give you the most benefit out of your hearing aids.  When shopping for a hearing aid, know what features you are looking for.  Many features are not available in those “tiny” hearing aids!

Important features to look for:

1.  t-coil – with manual switch, not automatic
2.  volume control – on the hearing aid, not just on a remote
3.  program buttons – also on the hearing aid
4.  wireless connectivity – between hearing aids and with other devices
5.  Bluetooth compatible – especially if you use a cell phone
6.  directional microphones – to help in noisy environments
7.  DAI – direct audio input

You may not need all these features, but should know your options.  There are other features in the inner workings of the hearing aid (feedback reduction, noise suppression, frequency shifting, wind block, etc.) but I am only describing the features the user can control and interact with.

1.  T-coils
I’ve already covered the importance of getting a t-coil in previous blog posts.  Of all these features, this is the most important to me.  Don’t buy a hearing aid without a t-coil!
See my website for more on this topic.  http://www.heargear.net/t-coils.

The t-coil must be manual, not automatic, which means you can turn it on and off yourself using a switch or program button.  You must have a manual t-coil in order to use your t-coil in a room with a hearing loop or to use a neckloop.

T-coil Installed

Some hearing aids give you a choice of
T = t-coil only
or
T + M = t-coil and microphone

T-coil only means you can completely turn off the microphone (muting the background noise) and just hear what is being transmitted to the t-coil.

T-coil and microphone means you can keep your microphone on while using the t-coil.  I like having both the “T” and the “T+M” settings.

THLswitch

2.   Volume Control

It is nice to have a remote control, but I also want my volume control on my hearing aid.  This is a very important feature for me.  When in a group situation, one person’s voice may be softer than another’s and I can quickly adjust my hearing aid.  If I had to rummage around in my purse for my remote control, I would miss half of the conversation.  If you have difficulty with handling small buttons and controls, then a remote control is great.

3.  Program Buttons

Just like the volume control, I want the program buttons to be quickly available.  The program control button lets you switch to different programs set up by your audiologist.  Typically “program 1” is your regular program that you use most of time.  This is the program that is on when you first put on your hearing aids.  The number of programs available varies, but I recommend getting at least 4 programs.  You might have a program for noisy environments (which controls the directional microphones), a program for your t-coil and/or a program for listening to music.  There may be other types of programs available. When shopping for a hearing aid, find out how many programs the hearing aid is able to store and discuss the options with your audiologist.

   Hearing Aids buttons

4.  Wireless Connectivity – This term refers to two different types of connectivity

a.  The hearing aids should communicate with each other.  My volume control is on the left.  When I adjust it, it automatically adjusts the right hearing aid, too.  My program control button is on the right.  I only have to use this one button to change the program in both hearing aids.

b.  Some hearing aid manufacturers have created devices to help you “stream” sound directly into your hearing aids from audio sources such a cell phone, a land  line, television, computers and personal amplifiers.  I think these are VERY nice options to have.  Here is a list of the brands I am currently aware of that come with some kind of streaming accessory.

Phonak – SmartLink (FM) & ComPilot (Bluetooth)
Oticon – Streamer & ConnectLine
Siemans – Tek & miniTek
Resound – Unite accessories
Rexton – Mini Blu RCU & SoundGate
Unitron – uDirect & uTV
Widex – Dex & Scola FM
Starkey – SurfLink Mobile & SurfLink Media

connectline-solution

5. Bluetooth Compatible

Bluetooth allows you to talk hands-free on a cell phone and listen to music, podcasts, or audio books from a smart phone.  You can purchase a Bluetooth transmitter to send sound from your computer, TV or land line phone into your hearing aids.  No hearing aids have Bluetooth built in to them as they would require too much battery power, so a neckloop or other intermediary device is needed to use Bluetooth.

6.  Directional Microphones

Directional microphones can help you hear better in noise as it amplifies the sounds in front of you (the person you are speaking to) while lowering the volume of other sounds. You activate the directional microphone by changing the program button on your hearing aids.

7.  DAI – Direct Auditory Input

DAI allows the hearing aid to be directly connected to an external audio source.  This may be done with a 3-prong cord and a “sleeve” or a “boot” that fits onto the bottom of a BTE (behind-the-ear) hearing aid.  Phonak makes an FM receiver that is compatible with all hearing instrument brands and models (and can be used with Phonak FM transmitters).

images     DAI boot smaller          DAI cable smaller

For more information about hearing aids see:
“Common Styles of Hearing Aids”

“Introduction to Hearing Aids”

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