Not many people can avoid using the phone – even if only for emergencies. Yet, it isn’t always easy to hear on the phone, with or without a hearing loss.
I admit it – I hate using the phone. I don’t care if it’s the landline or my cell phone, I don’t like the auditory sensation from a phone receiver pressed against my ear and the alternative of using speaker phone brings the difficulty of hearing with competing sounds. And inevitably the phone rings when I am busy with no hands available. “Kids can you answer my phone, mummy’s hands are dirty!”
But I have no choice, using the phone is an integral part of life – I need it for work, to keep in touch with my family and friends overseas and to remind my other half to remember to pick up some bread on his way home!
Yet even though I have normal hearing there are times when it is challenging to hear the caller’s voice. Most modern day phones (both landline and cell phone) offer a volume control functionality to overcome a signal-to-noise problem. But as we know there are times when increasing the volume does not improve the clarity.
I can really sympathize with my clients who commonly report that phone use with hearing aids is difficult for them.
In addition to instructing my clients on general handling of their hearing aids, a large portion of a clinic day is to counsel on how to improve telephone situations when wearing hearing aids. In the past we would spend time on educating clients on how to correctly position the phone. When wearing behind-the-ear hearing aids, it no longer made sense to place the phone receiver at the ear canal, but angle it up to where the hearing aid microphone is at the top of the pinna. Or with custom hearing aids to avoid feedback by angling the receiver slightly away from the hearing aid microphones. This behavior change was often quite challenging for clients – in the end they often just removed their hearing aids to hear on the phone!
Research confirms that hearing benefits can be gained when the signal is streamed directly into the hearing aid rather than through the microphone. The first attempt at this was in the late 1940s, when Telecoil technology was first introduced in hearing aids. Unfortunately despite the benefits T-coils and the transmitting loop systems did not become widely adopted due to limitations such as size of the T-coil. Other developments to improve the telephone signal have also been implemented in hearing aids, such as playing the phone call through both ears or turning off the microphones to improve the SNR or access to fine tuning possibilities to adjust the frequency response of a specific telephone program.
Now we are in the age of “streaming”. Current implementations of Bluetooth in hearing aids allow for direct streaming of the audio signal from an incoming call into the hearing aids. The end user can enjoy listening to an incoming phone call without even holding the phone. There are definite hearing performance benefits to this!
Unfortunately usability is limited as the end user has to accept and end a call on the phone, and during the phone call hold the phone to speak into the phone’s microphone.
It would be nice to offer both hearing performance benefits from direct audio streaming together with usability convenience of handsfree cellphone use. Essentially turning the hearing aids into Bluetooth headsets!
Maybe then I won’t have to ask the kids to answer my calls for me…now I just need something to remind me to buy bread!