In the 22 years that I wrote the ALLEARS column for Senior Magazine, I had never featured a specific brand or type of hearing instrument. I have always discussed hearing aids, in general. That’s about to change.
I have been in the hearing healthcare field for 32 years. I have seen many advancements and improvements in hearing aid technology over the past quarter century. Technology has gone from linear, analog circuits – hearing aids that were straight amplifiers where you, the wearer, were always adjusting the volume. This technology worked well in a quiet listening environment but was far too loud in a noisy environment. You usually had to take your aids out in a noisy restaurant which ironically was the place you had the most difficulty understanding. Some places still sell this old technology making you, the consumer, think you are getting a real bargain. Don’t throw your money away. Unless you are sitting at home, or talking to one person at a time, this technology is no bargain. It will end up in a drawer.
The next big advancement was programmable hearing aids with wide dynamic range compression. Technology started to address the issues of loudness in a much more effective way. These circuits now amplified soft sounds a lot but hardly amplified loud sounds. They did a lot more self adjusting which meant you could leave your aids on while in that noisy restaurant, and follow a little more of the conversation.
In the late 1990’s, we saw the introduction of digital technology. Digital processing circuits are much cleaner and clearer sounding. It’s like listening to a CD versus a record. We were now able to match your specific hearing loss much more accurately, and that meant better clarity and more comfortable listening for you. Multiple listening programs also became available. For example, program one might be for normal listening situations while program two might be set for noisy environments.
Today, some of the more advanced digital technology continually analyzes incoming sounds, and processes them to best amplify speech while reducing unwanted noise. Couple this with directional microphones, many people do fairly well in a noisy restaurant and can actually follow most of the conversation. Up until recently, if you had a hearing loss in both ears, you would be fitted with two aids, one for each ear. But the instruments functioned as independent units. So you had to operate each separately. Your ears send signals to the auditory nerves which in turn send the information to the brain. The brain is where you actually process sound and interpret what you hear.
Starkey introduced an instrument that is changing the way people feel about hearing aids. Using wireless transmission technology, Starkey developed the 3 Series hearing instruments. The 3 Series with ear-to-ear wireless technology makes it possible for your two hearing instruments to talk to each other and function as one synchronized hearing system which is how the brain works. The instruments actually communicate with each other, automatically and instantaneously assessing and adjusting to your listening situations. The volume, program, noise reduction and directional settings of both instruments are completely in sync. But if you prefer to make some adjustments manually, you can do this with less effort. Just touch the control on one device and the volume or listening program changes on both ears! You no longer have to adjust or balance one aid, and then the other to keep both in sync. This gives your brain the best information.
So what does all this mean? For me, the proof is always in my patients. One 53-year old, man who has worn aids for the last 15 years fell in love with the 3 Series. He used to wear his other digital aids “only when he had to”. He would put them in as he went into work and they came out the minute he left work. I fit him with a set of Starkey 3 Series instruments. He literally said he couldn’t wait to put them in first thing in the morning, would wear them all day long, and take them out last thing at night. The instruments instantly became a part of him. He said they were the closest he had ever gotten to natural hearing! I was in awe.
A 62-year old woman who has worn hearing aids for 25 years came in for her first follow-up visit after being fitted with the 3 Series instruments. I asked her how she was doing. She literally got tears in her eyes and peacefully said, “Great! Betty, I feel connected to the world again. I can actually follow conversations in the car and in restaurants, places where I used to feel embarrassed and left out.” I was in awe again with tears in my eyes.
I have fit two people that did not benefit from this technology but at least we tried. It’s not for everyone. However, people’s reaction to this miraculous technology has been overwhelming. There are dozens of first-time wearers that have started with the 3 Series. Typically, they get used to their instruments with ease and joy. One man said, “If I had known it would have been so easy to get used to hearing aids, I would have done this a lot sooner!” I reminded him that this revolutionary technology had just been released in June 2012 so his timing was perfect!
Whether you are discouraged or resigned about your current aids or you’ve been putting off getting your first set of hearing instruments, the 3 Series with wireless technology could change the way you feel about hearing aids! Please, go and check it out!