People who experience hearing loss can have some difficulty on the phone,with and without their hearing aids.
Some of the communication techniques that we use to “fill in the blanks” in “live” conversations, are missing from phone conversations. Some examples are: being able to see the person’s face; listening with both ears; and having a ‘whole’ signal to work with (this is because telephones and cell-phones provide us with processed sound, therefore do not have all of the clarity of ‘live speech’). Often, we are in a noisy place when a call comes in, we aren’t expecting it, or we don’t know the person or topic about to be discussed. Vital cues are missing for communication! Different types of hearing loss may also interfere with certain pitches (frequencies) making them inaudible on the phone. The sound may be too soft or unclear, for a specific type of hearing loss. The person with whom we are speaking may be in a noisy place. Sometimes, it is just a bad quality call in the first place!

Hearing on the phone with some types of hearing aids, may be no better. The hearing aid cannot ‘fix’ the quality of the signal, hearing with one ear, or the noise around you. In addition, using a hearing aid on the phone sometimes requires careful placement of the handset, so that the sound coming out of the phone’s loudspeaker can enter the microphone of the hearing device, effectively. In certain types of hearing loss, such as when one has better low-pitch hearing than high-pitch hearing, the device may not be programmed to amplify certain elements, making it seem worse!

However, there are solutions to help you win your phone battle!

Some hearing aids have built in telecoil. Telecoil is a type of magnetic circuit capable of receiving sound energy from any other device with a similar telecoil loop. This means that you may need a phone that has this loop built into the phone, and then your audiologist activates your telecoil circuit in your hearing aid so that the two may communicate. This wireless technology usually connects to one hearing aid but provides a better connection to your hearing aid circuit than a physical one.

Modern hearing aids have built in Bluetooth and/or Radio Frequency. These technologies are built on a wireless transmitter and receiver connection. Not all devices are mutually compatible, so you need an audiologist to assist you to select the right type of hearing aid for your phone (or phone for your hearing aid) to ensure compatibility, and to “pair” them for you. This option will usually allow connection or transmission to both of your hearing aids at the same time, which overcomes a significant problem for people with hearing loss, as two ears are almost ALWAYS better than one! In most technologies, there is a way of reducing the sound of the environment around you at the same time, so that the sound streaming through your hearing aids is clear; amplified according to your hearing loss (the hearing aid does this); and with less interference from sound in your own environment. These are ideal “phone and hearing” strategies.

Using a phone with a loudspeaker option helps you to hear through both hearing aids if the speaker can be placed in front of you. There can be drawbacks, as other people can hear the call, so you may not be able to do this in company! Also, the quality of the sound will be poorer than a direct connection; however, it will still be better than hearing with only one ear.

For landlines, phones exist that can amplify sound themselves, and external amplifiers ca be connected to an existing phone to assist you.

Our audiologists are well-versed in all of these options, and we have a wide range of adaptive telephone and cell-phone resources available. For what may work best for your specific needs, talk to one of us (contact us here). We can help you find a solution to maintain your connection with friends and family and be fully functional in meeting the needs of your business life.

By Natalie Buttress of NB Hearing