If you have been told by your doctor or audiologist that you have experienced some hearing loss and could benefit from a hearing aid, there is good news to go along with the bad news. Yes, it may be true that you may need to assist your fading hearing with an electronic hearing aid. But thanks to technological advances, hearing aids are not the clumsy, unsightly devices they once were. Modern hearing aids can be almost invisible and unnoticeable, and come in many configurations, including behind-the-ear (BTE), in-the-ear (ITE), in-the-canal (ITC), and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) models.
Additional good news is that wearing a hearing aid does not, as it once did, complicate the process of using a telephone. Older hearing aids were often difficult or impossible to use with mobile phones or even digital cordless phone handsets, because the electronics in the phones interfered with the electronics in the hearing aids. Trying to use mobile phones while wearing a hearing aid often resulted in static, screeching noises, or garbled conversations. Newer technologies have solved these problems, and spawned a wide range of hearing aid compatible (HAC) devices.
How do I know whether a phone and a hearing aid will be compatible?
New government laws and labeling requirements make it easy for you. When discussing with your audiologist or hearing specialist the type of hearing aid that might be best for you, pay attention to two new ratings that appear on the devices’ labels or boxes. These ratings will tell you exactly how compatible the hearing aid will be with a mobile phone or cordless handset:
• The M rating. “M” in this case stands for microphone, one of the key elements that determines whether the device is HAC. In the past the microphones in hearing aids were not always powerful enough to hear sounds coming from the tiny speakers in mobile phones. The M rating assigned to both mobile phones and hearing aids allows you to see at a glance how sensitive the microphone in the device is, from 1 (the least sensitive) to 4 (the most sensitive).
• The T rating. The other rating measures the sensitivity of the telecoil, which is a tiny coil of wire that allows the hearing aid to pick up electromagnetic impulses near to it. What this means is that you can in many cases just hold the phone in the general vicinity of your ear and hear conversations on it without using the hearing aid’s microphone at all. There is usually a switch that turns the hearing aid from M (microphone) mode to T (telecoil) mode. As with the M ratings, the sensitivity of telecoils when a hearing aid is in T mode are rated from 1 to 4, the higher ratings being better.
With this new rating system, the task of determining how compatible a hearing aid you are considering will be with your mobile phone becomes easy. Simply add the M and T ratings for the cell phone and the hearing aid together to get a combined rating for the pair.
A combined rating of 6 or more is considered excellent, a hearing aid/phone combination that would provide highly usable, interference-free performance. If the combined rating is 5, this combination is considered normal and suitable for most regular phone use. A combined rating of 4 is considered usable for brief calls, but may not be suitable for extended phone use. No device with a combined M and T rating of less than 3 can be labeled as hearing aid compatible (HAC).
When purchasing your hearing aid, find a store where they are willing to let you “try before you buy.” Bring your current mobile phone and/or the cordless handsets from your home phones. Also, look carefully into the policies of both the telephone vendor and the hearing aid vendor for cancellation or trade-in, so that if you do encounter compatibility problems you can swap the component that doesn’t work well for another one that does.