App-titude: Smartphones as Remote Controls-for Hearing Aids As smartphones and hearing aids become more sophisticated, the number of apps allowing users to link them seamlessly keeps growing—and the trend shows no sign of slowing. App-titude
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App-titude  |   March 01, 2014
App-titude: Smartphones as Remote Controls-for Hearing Aids
Author Notes
  • Erin Margaret Picou, PhD, CCC-A, is a research assistant professor in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn. ■erin.picou@vanderbilt.edu
    Erin Margaret Picou, PhD, CCC-A, is a research assistant professor in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn. ■erin.picou@vanderbilt.edu×
Article Information
Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / App-titude
App-titude   |   March 01, 2014
App-titude: Smartphones as Remote Controls-for Hearing Aids
The ASHA Leader, March 2014, Vol. 19, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.APP.19032014.38
The ASHA Leader, March 2014, Vol. 19, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.APP.19032014.38
We audiologists are all about keeping our patients connected to their acoustic world—to conversational partners, music, environmental stimuli and all the other sounds they may have been missing. As hearing aid and smartphone technology advances, our ability to help patients connect expands alongside it.
Now, not only can we help our patients connect to sounds in their environment, we have more opportunities than ever to expand their acoustic world by connecting them to digital devices delivering music, television and telephone signals. The following smartphone apps can help patients connect to their environment in a variety of ways and improve their connection to the acoustic world—and more are on the way.
Smartphones as remote controls
With the right app, a smartphone becomes a hearing aid user’s direct interface to her devices—a remote control. The Starkey T2 Remote app allows a Starkey hearing aid user to control the aid’s volume and program settings with an Apple iPhone or iPad (bit.ly/starkey-apple) or an Android device (bit.ly/starkey-android).
The app plays indicator tones, which are decoded to make specific changes to the patient’s hearing aids. For most people, the hearing aids have little difficulty detecting the indicator tones, although some listeners report that the tones sometimes draw unwanted attention. To work appropriately, the T2 feature must be enabled in the fitting software.
Devices in the stream
Wireless streaming has been possible for patients for many years. Several manufacturers offer streamers, which connect wirelessly to a piece of technology—a telephone, television or music player—via Bluetooth or another proprietary wireless protocol.
These streamers, also known as intermediary devices, transmit an audio signal to the hearing aid(s). This type of streaming allows a listener to connect to many different types of technology and media with relative ease—and with personalized gain settings applied to all of the audio signals. Examples of streamers include TekConnect (by Siemens), Unite Phone Clip+ (by GN Resound), ComPilot (by Phonak), M-DEX (by Widex), Surflink Mobile (by Starkey) and Streamer Pro (by Oticon).
Two of these manufacturers—GN Resound and Siemens—have created apps that work in tandem with the streaming device to allow remote control of the hearing aid’s settings, rather than controlling the aids directly. GN Resound’s app, Control, is available for Apple devices (bit.ly/control-apple) and some Android devices (bit.ly/control-android). Siemen’s app is called “miniTek Remote” and is available for Android (bit.ly/minitek-android).
In both cases, users can control their hearing aids’ volume and program settings without fiddling with an intermediary device. For the app to function properly, the user must have wireless hearing aids and the appropriate intermediary device—Unite Phone Clip+ (by ReSound) or miniTek (by Siemens). User reviews are very positive for both apps, although a few users report difficulty establishing or maintaining a connection to the intermediary device.
‘Made for iPhone’
In the past year, some manufacturers released hearing aids with the Apple-approved “made for iPhone” label, allowing users to stream audio directly from their Apple iPhone without an intermediary device. The accompanying apps also have sophisticated features that include volume control, frequency shaping, preference settings and geotagging.
Geotagging allows a listener to tag locations and associate preferred settings with that location. For example, every time the patient walks into his favorite restaurant, the hearing aid can automatically switch into his “background noise” program. ReSound was the first to announce this integrated hearing aid and associated app (LiNX, SmartTM app; www.resoundlinx.com), but Starkey and Oticon are rumored to announce their versions soon.
And this is just the beginning. As more manufacturers release “made for iPhone” devices and apps, our patients’ options will continue to expand. Although these apps aren’t appropriate for all of them, there are certainly some tech-savvy patients out there who might appreciate the increased connectivity these apps provide.
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March 2014
Volume 19, Issue 3