Elder Care: Here Ye, Hear Ye! (Part 2) by Carol Rose

As I mentioned in the previous issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, there are many devices on the market to help hard-of-hearing persons function better in their world.  Many of these devices can be used with or without an aid. In this issue, I’ll describe a specific part of a hearing aid – the telecoil, commonly referred to as the “t-coil,” and devices designed to work with this important hearing aid element.

How do I know about all this? I am 71 years of age and have a profound hearing loss.  I am also one of the fortunate 15% of the estimated twenty-seven million Americans age 50 and up, including two-thirds of men and women aged 70 years and older with a hearing loss, who wear hearing aids.

And I am a Hearing Technology Resource Specialist, (HTRS), which is a volunteer position with the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan, a group composed mainly of hard-of-hearing persons with the goal of helping others with the same disability achieve the best hearing possible for them.

In talking with hard of hearing people with hearing aids, one of the first questions I ask is “Do your aids have t-coils?”  The most common answer is “I don’t know.  What’s a t-coil?”

As the official website of the Hearing Loss Association of America,www.hearlingloss.org explains, the telecoil is a small copper coil that functions as a wireless antenna linking to sound systems, delivering customized sound to the listener.

It was originally used to boost the magnetic signals from the telephone handset. The telecoil is activated by a t-switch on the hearing aid or cochlear implant. All landline and some cell phones are designed by law to be compatible with a telecoil.

For whatever reason, some audiologists opt not to put a t-coil in a client’s aids.  Others don’t tell the client about the t-coil when they first get the aid.

Why some do not put a t-coil in, I don’t know.  Possibly the aid is too small?  Some of the advertisements say “So small no one will know you are wearing a hearing aid.”  Possibly so small it cannot fit a much-needed device?

One reason I’ve heard as to why audiologists will not tell the client about the telecoil is they feel the person getting a new aid may be too overwhelmed with it – the new sounds, buttons to push… they will wait until a future visit to tell and instruct about the t-coil.

So when would you use a telecoil? Increasing the volume on your hearing aid or cochlear implant won’t necessarily increase the clarity of what you hear. Hearing assistive technology combined with a telecoil can improve your understanding of dialogue at work, in a meeting, in the classroom, theaters, places of worship, tour buses, and other places. Some people use telecoils at home with the TV while keeping the TV volume low for the comfort of others. Many public places are equipped with hearing assistive technology.

The most common hearing loop is a wire that circles a room and is connected to the sound system. The loop transmits the sound electromagnetically. The electromagnetic signal is then picked up by the telecoil in the hearing aid or cochlear implant. To use a hearing loop, one easily flips the t-switch on the hearing aid or cochlear implant. No additional receiver or equipment is needed. Using a telecoil and hearing loop together is seamless, cost-effective, unobtrusive, and you don’t have to seek out and obtain special equipment.

Traveling in airports is difficult for me.  I cannot understand the noise that is coming over the loudspeakers.  Not so in the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, MI.  A sign on the door as one walks in tells the hard-of-hearing person to turn on his or her t-coil.  And upon turning it on – wah -la!  All the announcements go direct to my hearing aids!  Now I can not only hear, but I can understand! For those in the medical world, there are stethoscopes designed to connect directly to the telecoil; for the home, there are induction loop pads which will connect the hard of hearing person with t-coil equipped aids directly to a sound system, such as a TV.

One of my favorite pieces is the Clipboard Portable Induction Loop.  It looks like an ordinary clipboard but it contains a piece of wire inside it, which connects to the what? You guessed it! The t-coil in the hearing aid! Perfect for the hard-of-hearing college student, professor, or the hard-of-hearing counselor, doctor or nurse.

Telecoils can also improve hearing on hearing-aid-compatible phones, and can be used with neckloops to replace headphones. A neckloop is similar to a hearing loop, except it is worn around the neck and can be plugged into other audio devices, (such as an MP3 player, computer, or FM or infrared receivers), to transmit the audio signal directly to the hearing aid telecoil, bypassing the need for headphones.

Don’t assume that your hearing aid will automatically come with a telecoil or that it will be recommended. Or, if a telecoil is present, don’t assume it has been programmed to suit your individual needs. Today, approximately 65% of all hearing aids dispensed in the United States have telecoils. Yet, few consumers are told about them and know how to use them.

Use the Consumer Checklist, which contains information about t-coils, published by the Hearing Loss Association of America when purchasing a hearing aid (available on http://www.hearingloss.org).

Note: Automatic telecoils are available but work only with telephones, not hearing loops, so ask your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist to include a manually-operated telecoil in your hearing aid and ask for advice on how to use it. Also, see http://www.healthandhappinessupmag.com/events for information on registering for Sept. 27th’s free Kooser Program, The Hidden Impact of Hearing Loss, which includes vital information on choosing hearing assistive technology.

Carol Rose is a writer, photographer, found object artist and outdoor enthusiast living in Grand Marais. Wondering about Bluetooth technology and HAT (Hearing Assistive Technology)? Carol will discuss this in a future issue of Health & Happiness! In the meantime she wishes you “Happy Hearing!”

This article was reprinted with permission from the Fall 2013 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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