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Easy Listening: Hearing Devices for a Muffled World

Whether your taste is low-tech or wireless, plenty of gadgets can make hearing easier.

Low-Tech Assistive Listening Devices Still Boost Hearing

Every amplifying device has three parts - a microphone, a mechanism to amplify sounds picked up, and a speaker that alters the sound and transmits it to you, Loavenbruck explains. While traditional hardwired assistive listening devices are still popular and inexpensive, wireless technology is getting the biggest buzz. However, a low-tech and low-cost listening device is often the easiest solution.

TV amplifiers are a good solution "when someone says the TV is their major problem, and they don't have any other listening difficulties, says Loavenbruck. "For that person, a hearing aid is a very expensive -- and not very effective way -- to solve their problem." Cost: $150 to $200.

Telephone amplifiers are also an inexpensive solution. They amplify the volume of incoming calls, yet block feedback and background noise. Cost: $50 or less.

Remote signaling devices act as alarm systems when the doorbell or phone rings, a house alarm or smoke detector goes off, or your infant cries. You are alerted - even if you're asleep. Some signaling devices use a strobe light (including special alarm clocks). Some are connected to vibrators that shake your mattress, pillow, or wrist. Cost: About $50.

Personal FM listening systems can help in a noisy environment like a conference room or restaurant. The low-tech versions involve setting a small mic on the restaurant or conference table, or your companion can wear it, and the sound is transmitted directly into your hearing aid. Cost: $150.

Wireless Listening Devices for the Technology Age

The advent of directional microphones in hearing aids has been a big boon - but it has not solved everyday problems, says David Fabry, PhD, an audiologist formerly with Mayo Clinic for 15 years. He is now the director of clinical research at Phonak Hearing Systems in Warrenville, Ill., a company that specializes in wireless communications devices.

To screen out background noise -- and bring the speaker's voice right into your ear -- you can definitely find high-tech solutions, he tells WebMD. "In fact, FM wireless systems have been used effectively in classrooms for years. The challenge is to bring them into the boardroom, where adults can use them in business situations."

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