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50+: Live Better, Longer

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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.

Wireless Listening Devices for the Technology Age continued...

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."

Also, the high demand of Bluetooth in general is driving down the cost of the hearing aid, he adds. "Our ability to piggyback onto general consumer electronics (like Bluetooth) is lowering the cost to the patient."

Low-end assistive listening devices can be purchased at stores like Radio Shack and online, but the high-end wireless devices must be dispensed by an audiologist. Typically, assistive listening devices are not covered by insurance. Also, for people who can't afford amplified phones, it is possible in some states to obtain them from the local phone service provider.

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