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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Living With Severe Hearing Loss

Middle-Ear Implants

Middle-ear implants are an alternative to conventional hearing aids. They also boost sound to the inner ear, but the devices are implanted within the middle ear to directly drive the ossicles. These are three tiny bones that amplify sound signals and transmit them to the inner ear, from the ear drum.

Middle-ear implants may also appeal to people who want an invisible hearing device. They are also beneficial in people who cannot wear a hearing aid such as those with dermatologic conditions affecting the ear canal, or a very small or absent ear canal. The implants may also be helpful in those who did not get the desired effect with a traditional hearing aid. Another advantage is that patients "do not sound like they are in a barrel when they are talking, Atcherson says." This is a common complaint with hearing aids that block the ear canal.

Bone-Conducting Hearing Aids

For people with severe hearing loss on only one side, one type of implant can simulate two-sided hearing. A bone-conducting hearing aid uses a component that is attached to the side of the head with poor hearing. Vibrations picked up on that side travel through the skull to the normal ear. "Research has shown a surprising improvement in quality of life," Atcherson says.

Assistive Listening Devices

Assistive listening devices can be used with hearing aids to create a better result in certain situations. The goal is usually to separate speech from background noise.

  • Portable FM systems use radio technology to broadcast a speaker's words directly to a hearing aid. The classic example is the classroom setting, where a microphone is placed in front of a teacher. This helps the student hear the teacher's voice over other sounds.
  • Infrared systems use light-based technology to transmit sound. They are often used to enhance television listening.
  • Induction loop systems are designed to help people hear announcements in public facilities, such as airports, schools, or auditoriums. These systems send signals directly to specially equipped hearing aids or headphones.

Alerting Devices

Alerting devices use other sensory information to substitute for sound. This may include an alarm clock that vibrates the bed, or lights that blink when the doorbell rings or a smoke alarm goes off. These devices are not meant to take the place of hearing aids or implants, but they can improve independence in people with severe hearing loss.

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