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Assisted Listening Devices 101

If you are thinking, “What is an assisted listening device?” this is the blog post for you!  I am writing this for those who have no idea there is anything beyond hearing aids to help you hear.  Eight short years ago, I had never heard of assisted listening devices (ALD’s).  I was a teacher, I wore hearing aids, but I was still having trouble hearing my students.  To make a long story short, my school district purchased an ALD for me and it was so helpful, I decided when I retired from teaching, I would purchase demonstration devices, teach people how to use them, and create a website to sell them.  Thus Hear Gear was born!

So, what is an assisted listening device?  The simple explanation is that ALD’s are devices that help you hear.  Hearing aids and cochlear implants may be considered assisted listening devices, but this term usually refers to devices used in addition to hearing aids and cochlear implants.  There are many categories of ALD’s such as:  TV listening devices, telephone products, alerting devices, personal amplifiers, and large area systems for auditoriums and theaters such as FM, infrared and induction hearing loops. I will be focusing here on personal amplifiers because I think they are so important to help keep hard-of-hearing people active and busy with activities they might otherwise avoid.


Personal Amplifiers

A personal amplifier helps you hear better in noisy environments and when the speaker is far away from you.  The speaker talks into a microphone and the sound is sent into your hearing aids or can be heard through headphones or earbuds.

There are two types of personal amplifiers:  wired and wireless.

Wired:  for hearing better in one-on-one conversations, small group discussions and meetings.  These devices are small, light weight, hand-held microphones that amplify speakers near you and in a quiet room can even amplify speakers farther away, classroom teachers, the television, and other sound sources.  They are limited by being physically attached to you with a wire.  The advantage of the wired personal amplifiers is they are less expensive than wireless, ranging from $130 – $200.

Wireless:  FM/Digital – for hearing better when you are far away from the speaker.  These systems consist of two parts – the transmitter (microphone) and receiver.  The speaker’s voice is sent wirelessly from the transmitter to the receiver.  You are attached to the receiver, but the system can work at a distance up to 150 feet!  If you have never tried an FM or digital personal amplifier, you will be amazed.  Suddenly the speaker on the stage 30 rows ahead of you sounds like he is sitting next to you!  Wireless systems can also be used in small group settings and often the receiver can be used alone for this purpose.  Prices range from $750 – $900 or those made by hearing aid manufacturers – $1,000 – $2,000.

You can use a personal amplifier with or without hearing aids.  If you wear hearing aids, you must find out if you have t-coils in your hearing aids in order to get the most benefit from a personal amplifier.

The Miracle
The miracle of using a personal amplifier is that suddenly background noise is diminished and the speaker’s voice comes directly into your ears, loud and clear!  Hearing aids and cochlear implants are wonderful, but the microphone is on your ear.  With a personal amplifier, you can get the microphone closer to the speaker, so hearing is greatly enhanced.  Below are some resources to help you learn more about all the amazing technology available to help you hear.  Read on!

1.  My previous blog posts:
“T-coil? What’s a T-coil?”
“Get Looped”
“Get Looped – Part II”
“What is a Neckloop?”
“Wireless Microphones for Hearing Aids”

2.  The Hearing Loss Association brochure “Get in the Hearing Loop”

3.  National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) web site “Assisted Listening Devices for People with Hearing, Voice, Speech, or Language Disorders”

4. Article in the 2011 Nov/Dec issue of Hearing Loss Magazine by Brad Ingrao, “21st Century Connectivity in Hearing Devices”

Did you skip the resources above?  Uh-oh!  Go back and read them!  (I told you I was a teacher!)  This is your homework to prepare you for the advanced level of “Assisted Listening Devices 201” – my next blog post that will give you more information about how to use personal amplifiers.