MARQUETTE - These are not your grandfather's hearing aids.
The days of big, blocky hearing aids riding above a person's ear are mostly over as hearing aid companies make their products smaller, more durable and able to integrate with cell phones, TVs and other devices.
Victoria Dinkin, a board certified audiologist with Audiology Associates of Marquette, said hearing aid technology has evolved with the baby boomer generation.
Victoria Dinkin, a certified audiologist with Audiology Associates of Marquette, holds up a tray of a variety of different hearing aids. (Journal photo by Christopher Diem)
This Phonak system allows users to be wirelessly connected to their television and other electronic devices. (Journal photo by Christopher Diem)
"With the Baby Boomer era and all the drugs they were doing and all the rock concerts and the fact that they didn't want to look old - the hearing aid companies had to develop something that would help them accept hearing aids, change the stigma and also amplify just the high sounds that they totally damaged and leave low sounds natural," she said.
Phonak Hearing Systems makes the world's smallest Post Auricular Canal-style hearing aid. Half of the components in a PAC-style hearing aid are located behind the ear and the other half are located deep in the ear canal. The two parts are connected with a thin, translucent wire. Phonak also offers the world's only remote control contained within a watch.
Unitron offers the Smart Alert System, which fully and wirelessly integrates household alerting devices directly with a person's hearing aid all day. The system allows telephones, doorbells, smoke alarms and baby monitors to communicate directly with the hearing aid.
"Wherever a person buys a hearing aid, they need to make sure they have a choice, that they've been shown all options and not just have one brand stuck in their ear."
- Victoria Dinkin, Certified audiologist
Audiology Associates of Marquette
"There's a remote control and that is paired to certain alerting devices, such as your telephone, your doorbell, baby monitor, smoke alarm and when any of those devices go off not only does your remote control vibrate, it lights up to show you what signaler is going off," Dinkin said. "It sends a special unique tone to your hearing aid if you're wearing it, if it's a smoke alarm, you get an urgent tone so you know this is a danger warning."
During the night the remote control can also be hooked up to an under-mattress bed shaker.
Microtech has hearing aids that are comfortable and have no external controls. The device uses SmartTouch technology so all someone has to do to turn up the volume or turn down the volume is slide their finger along the hearing aid's casing.
To switch programs, a person simply has to tap the device. Voice indicators rather than beep tones are offered for those with cognitive issues and are available in a variety of languages.
Dinkin suggested people get tested for hearing loss at 45. Anybody in a high risk occupation with loud sounds should get a baseline test. Once hearing loss is identified, Dinkin suggested people get retested every year.
"Wherever a person buys a hearing aid, they need to make sure they have a choice, that they've been shown all options and not just have one brand stuck in their ear," Dinkin said. "I've heard that complaint too many times. They need to know the hearing aid will last them a certain duration of time."
For most people hearing loss is gradual. If it's age related it's known as presbycusis. Hearing loss can be accelerated with frequent exposure to loud noise, like chainsaws or snowmobiles.
There are several types of hearing loss - sensorineural, which means there's a problem with the inner ear; conductive, which means there's a dysfunction in the outer ear, the eardrum or the bones of the middle ear; or a combination of both.
An example of sensorineural hearing loss is damage to the cochlea, the auditory portion of the inner ear. Loud noises can cause damage to tiny hair cells inside the cochlea. When the cells are permanently damaged they become bent or broken, causing an incomplete transmission of sound through the ear.
"It's kind of like walking on blades of grass. If you walk over grass enough times eventually it's not going to pop back up. You just completely matted it down," Dinkin said.
Often a family member is the first person to notice hearing loss in other people, Dinkin said.
"They notice a person saying 'what?' a lot or not answering or they notice the TV being turned up. So those spouses who don't have a hearing loss or who have lesser of a hearing loss, they're the ones who complain first," she said.
Other people may notice hearing loss in themselves if they notice people mumbling or talking too fast.
"They withdraw from social activities because they just say 'yes' and nod their head a lot because we like to be very amicable individuals and agreeable so we say 'yes,' then they misinterpret the signals and you have miscommunication problems and it becomes very embarrassing so to avoid an embarrassing situation, they withdraw," Dinkin said.
However, Dinkin said the stigma of hearing aids is being erased with the new discreet technology.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org