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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 continued...

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."

Personal FM systems are being integrated with conventional behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids - with minor modifications, Fabry says. "If you want to run your iPod, cell phone, or stereo through your hearing aid, it is possible to do that. Tomorrow, it may be possible to do that with a standard BTE or even an in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid -- without the need for any modification. Cost: $1,000 or more.

Cell phones and amplifying devices are a high-tech marriage. If your hearing aid contains a T-coil (telephone amplifying coil), with certain cell phones you can plug in a Loopset (which is like a headphone but is worn around your neck). This will reduce or eliminate the static that you might get from a cell phone because you have a hearing aid. Mini-sized BTE hearing aids and wireless Bluetooth technology are also a hot combination. "These hearing aids are much smaller than they used to be, but they're large enough to contain the circuitry of an ALD device. The hearing aids can take sound from the cell phone and feed it into your ear through a very narrow tube," Fabry explains. Cost: $100 for the Loopset; $1,500 or more for the BTE hearing aid/Bluetooth.

Baby boomers are latching onto all this latest technology "because we're techno freaks, we're not as stigmatized by having something on our ear," says Fabry. "My mother would be terrified of it, but we're not. We'd rather have the better sound quality. And it looks very cool, very high-tech."

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