Assistive listening devices are a useful supplement to many wearing hearing aids and / or cochlear implants. The most well known “wireless” assistive listening device is the FM (frequency Modulated) system. An FM system consists of a microphone, a receiver and a transmitter. The microphone is used by a speaker or teacher (when an FM system is used in the classroom) and is positioned very close to the speaker’s mouth.This signal is then transmitted to the hearing impaired person via radio waves to a receiver either worn on the body or connected directly to the hearing aid/cochlear implant. This analogue wireless transmission of a signal is fairly robust and the Australian Government has put aside an FM frequency for low power assistive listening systems to minimise interference from other radio users. FM systems help a hearing impaired person overcome:1. Distance effects2. Listening to speech in the presence of background noise, and3. Listening challenges in reverberant (echoey) listening environments. Most hearing impaired people would benefit from an FM system in some specific listening situations. FM systems are used for nearly all hearing impaired children here in Australia and Australian Hearing funds these devices. FM systems are compatible with nearly all hearing aid systems and all cochlear implant systems.Blue-tooth is a digital wireless solution which allows for direct communication between hearing aids and external devices that are blue-tooth compatible ie. Phones, TV’s, MP3 players and also from one hearing aid to another. Blue-tooth allows communication between different devices without the need for cords and wires through the use of short wavelength radio signals. This communication between aids could potentially result in better hearing outcomes and allows users to change volume and programme settings simultaneously in both right and left worn hearing aids. While many hearing aid systems can give users connectivity to bluetooth enabled devices, no cochlear implant or middle ear implant system has blue-tooth compatibility.

Our rapidly changing digital world poses challenges if you have trouble hearing. Until recently, iPods, computers, cell phones and other wireless technology were incompatible with hearing aids, often causing secondary feedback such as whistling and screeching sounds. But now new hearing aid technology is transforming the way you can experience the world around you if you have a hearing loss. Hearing aids with wireless Bluetooth technology allow sound to be received from electronic equipment directly to the ear. This hearing aid technology has the ability to search for signals from a cell phone or other electronic equipment. If you use a hearing aid with Bluetooth, you no longer need to worry about putt ing something on top of the hearing aid, next to it, or having to take the hearing aid out to answer your cell phone, enjoy music from your iPod, or watch the TV without turning the volume up. You do need an interface to communicate between the hearing devices and the blue-tooth enabled devices. Also, there are people who haven’t been able to hear well on their older mobile phones but when they’ve upgraded to newer phones (in particular the iphone) they’ve noticed a significant increase in the sound quality and have had success with using the phone normally. If privacy isn’t an issue and a person has some form of hearing in both ears, many people find the speaker setting on their phones very useful as they are hearing “in stereo.”

As a start, if your phone has a speakerphone option try using that instead of holding the phone close to your ear – many people find they hear the caller better that way. Also talk to your audiologist about options that could work with your current hearing aid or implant system. Many modern hearing aids are Bluetoothcompatible and can be configured to communicate directly with your landline phone and mobile phone so that the voice of the person you are speaking with can be transmitted directly to your hearing device/s.If you are a Telstra customer, you may be eligible for a free volume control phone through their Disability Equipment Service. They offer a variety of equipment for the hearing impaired including phones; teletypewriters (TTYs) for text-to-text conversation with other TTY users or text-to-voice calls using the National Relay Service (NRS); a visual ringer alert; and, a cochlear implant adaptor. Have a talk to your audiologist about the brilliant free National Relay Service that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via internet or TTY. An NRS officer will even visit you at home or work to train you. A volume control phone can also be purchased through Australian company Oricom. Their phone includes an inbuilt telecoil that can assist hearing aid and cochlear implant wearers to attain a clearer signal on the telephone. As far as I know, they also have the one and only mobile phone with an inbuilt telecoil system.

The mobile phone with the inbuilt telecoil is the Oricom EZY100. It also has a +25dB volume boost. I’ve had some implant patients who love the phone and others who haven’t had the best result, so it would be good if they could trial the system before purchasing or have assurance by Oricom that they can return it if not happy. Alternatively, your clinic could become a distributor in which case it would be worth having a demonstration phone on hand that clients can trial before they purchase from you. I’ve found the whole range of Oricom phones very useful but on the odd occasion some people haven’t had much success with them and so the ability to return it or have a trial before purchase is really useful.