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Digital age brought great advances in hearing aids Every hearing aid manufacturer offers levels of technology ranging from simple to sophisticated

Bob Turner R

emember hearing aids of the past – unsightly hunks of plastic filling your ears, constant fiddling with the damn things and the aids whistling. Those days, my friend, are gone. Today’s hearing aids are small, discreet and re- quire very little adjustment by the user. Most features in hearing aids are fully automatic. Automatic identification of the environment in terms of quiet con- ditions versus noise allows the hearing aid to seamlessly adjust to the conditions around it. The digital age first started in the hear- ing aid industry in 1996 with Widex in- troducing the first commercially viable digital hearing aid. Up to that point hear- ing aids were tuned amplifiers. The am- plifier was adjusted to suit your degree of loss and the steepness of the loss for bass versus treble. You then could control the volume of sound needed for any situation by adjusting the volume control. Limited capability, limited satisfaction. 20 channels may share the job

The first digital hearing aid was of fairly simple design. It was a three-channel de- sign, by today’s standards. Each channel was set to the power needed to enhance normal conversation. As sound flowed into the aid it was instantly categorized in terms of pitch as belonging to one of the three channels. That channel would then sense how loud the sound was and, applying a calculated amount of power, increase the sound to a comfortable level for the user. Amazing back then! Today’s hearing aids can have up to 20 channels and, carrying out a huge amount of anal- ysis, automatically adjust the sound. Every manufacturer of hearing aids offers several levels of technology from simple to highly sophisticated. The sim- plest designs of hearing aids have fewer features and less capacity to adjust them- selves; of course higher levels of technol- ogy are more aggressive in their ways of adjusting to any situation.

Which hearing aid you need depends on your social needs and degree of hear- ing loss. If you are a home body with limited social contact, a less-expensive, low-technology design may work fine for you. If you are socially active you would benefit from higher technology. The degree of hearing loss is also a fac- tor. High technology hearing aids tend to most benefit people with mild to moder- ate hearing loss. People with severe hear- ing loss benefit less; they often feel an au- tomatic adjustment in sound carried out by the hearing aid to be a loss of contact with their environment. This can be very disturbing to an individual who needs consistency in their environment to feel attached.

One hearing aid manufac- turer provides the ultimate so- lution for individuals facing a dilemma in deciding what level of technology they should use. The company is Unitron, the only Canadian-based hear- ing aid manufacturer. Unitron makes the only hearing aids in the world which are completely upgradeable.

Software produces an upgrade

For the purchaser, this means you can at any time bring a low-technology hearing aid to a higher level by installing upgrade soft- ware to its computer chip.

The hearing aid even analyzes what different types of environment you are exposed to and will tell you whether your chosen level of technology is suited to your needs. So, whether your needs change or you decide two years later that you really should have purchased a bet- ter hearing aid, you can simply upgrade. You don’t have to purchase a new set of hearing aids

Some of the features available in to- day’s hearing aids and their benefits are: Channel design. Low technology hearing aids have fewer channels than high technology hearing aids. The higher the number of channels the more analysis and precision in adjustment can be car- ried out. Low- technology hearing aids may have three or four channels. Noise reduction and speech en- hancement. As the hearing aid processes sound, it analyses that sound for speech versus noise content. Channels which are predominantly noise are reduced and channels of high speech content are raised, so that the speech stands out above the noise. The more channels there are, the more distinct is the speech. Microphone design. Microphones pick up the sound for the hearing aid to process. They can be of limited capabil- ity in suppressing noise or very dynamic, constantly adjusting their directional pat- tern and focus.

High technology hearing aids also talk to each other to ensure that an individu- al’s two hearing aids are attending to the same source and adjusting themselves, to provide the hearing-impaired wearer with maximum speech content. Auto destination. Low technology hearing aids may have only one setting. High technology hearing aids can have different methods of dealing with differ- ent environments, such as speech in quiet, speech in noise, speech in crowds, noise without speech, car setting and music. Automatic feedback suppression. Hearing aids used to be notorious for whistling, especially where hearing loss

is more severe. Today’s hearing aids have nearly eliminated the whistling from feedback.

Auto telephone coupling. Hearing

aids are fitted with a device known as a telephone coil to pick up sound from the telephone. In the past, besides not work- ing well, the T-coil setting required the user to push a button or flick a switch to T-coil mode to talk on the telephone. These days the hearing aid will automati- cally sense when a telephone is held near it and automatically change to a T-coil setting. Blue tooth. The signal from your cell phone is sent directly into your hearing aid. You talk on the cell phone without even touching it. Other Bluetooth trans-

mitters can be attached to your TV. The sound is transmitted directly into your hearing aid and adjusts to your needs without affecting oth- ers watching TV. The other use is of a Bluetooth remote microphone which can transmit up to 65 feet – good for lectures, church or ex- tremely noisy conditions. Getting up to speed

Bob Turner gives a hearing test at his clinic. Supplied photo.

Automatic acclimatization manager. The more our own hear- ing system is deprived of stimula- tion, the less efficient it becomes. Fortunately some of today’s hear- ing aids are capable of slowly intro- ducing you back to the full world of sound through what is known as an “automatic acclimatization man- ager”. This feature allows the audiologist to adjust the hearing aids to an initial ac- ceptance level for the individual and set a period of time over which the aids auto- matically and slowly increase the settings to their optimal level. This gives the patient time to retrain their brain to its new environment and results in a huge improvement in new- user acceptance. Bob Turner in 1987 was Winnipeg’s first audiologist to enter private practice, and came to own three hearing clinics under the name Redwood Hearing Centres. Today his clinic, Turner Audiology, is located at Unit 1, 77 Redwood Ave., phone 204-589-3332.

Hear for Holidays

Try out the most advanced hearing aid technology this holiday season – for free!

Do you find it difficult to hear conversations against the happy backdrop of music, laughter and clinking glasses? This year, enjoy all the good times when you take advantage of our risk-free trial of the latest hearing aids.

Call today 204-589-3332

77E Redwood Ave., Winnipeg


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