Get Your Ear Gear On Have you heard the news? From cochlear implants to wireless accessories, frequency modulation to bone-anchored hearing aids, new advances in hearing tech are improving kids’ hearing. Features
Features  |   March 01, 2014
Get Your Ear Gear On
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Hearing Disorders / Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Features
Features   |   March 01, 2014
Get Your Ear Gear On
The ASHA Leader, March 2014, Vol. 19, 56-58. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.19032014.56
The ASHA Leader, March 2014, Vol. 19, 56-58. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.19032014.56
In the 1960s, speech processors were so big, the idea of wearing them on the ears would have been laughable. Today they’re standard ear wear, just like hearing aids. A lot has changed in 50 years! And the trend shows no sign of slowing. As researchers and manufacturers continue to develop new technologies, children with hearing loss have more options than ever before.
Of course, we can’t expect technology to do all the work. Even the fanciest of equipment won’t help hearing without patient buy-in and provider guidance. “Introducing new equipment options to children and their families requires finesse in the art of listening and communicating,” says Patti Martin, director of the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “And helping patients and their families integrate hearing equipment into their lifestyles successfully takes an ongoing conversation.”
See “A Whole Lot of Hearing Going On” on p. 42, and “Where There’s a Will … There’s an Aid” on p. 48 for ways to develop your communication finesse. But first, wow yourself with the latest hearing technology advances presented by audiologists at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.
Cochlear Implants: Smaller, Yet More Sophisticated
Neptune Sound Processors by Advanced Bionics
It is an exciting time to receive cochlear implants. Like other technologies, cochlear implants continue to become smaller and more sophisticated. And in the past year, all three cochlear implant manufacturers—Cochlear Corporation, Advanced Bionics and Med-El—released new external speech processors. They feature more options that support a variety of lifestyles, including a fully waterproof processor and a single-unit off-the-ear processor. Along with the new external features, manufacturers also have updated the devices’ speech-coding strategies to improve users’ listening experiences. One new processor pairs with an accessory to allow streaming audio and Bluetooth connectivity. Another is capable of direct audio streaming (pending Food and Drug Administration approval). Additionally, growing evidence supports expanding the candidacy criteria so that more people can benefit from cochlear implant technology. However—just as with any other tool—clients need intensive programming and audiologic (re)habilitation to reach their full potential.
Julia B. Webb, AuD, CCC-A
Wireless Sound Transmission: Wired for Sound
Harmony Sound Processors by Advanced Bionics
For many years, children with hearing loss have used wireless devices to bolster their hearing at home and at school. Typically, the teacher or parent wears a wireless microphone that transmits sound to receivers worn by the child. We have seen these receivers go from body-worn to ear-level to integrated within the hearing aid (or cochlear implant). And we’ve seen sound transmission graduate from frequency modulated to digitally modulated. The advantages of DM over FM include less interference, fewer instances of drop-out, and minimal-to-no transmission delay of the sound from the speaker to the listener. Another advantage of DM—one that school-based audiologists appreciate the most—is that you do not have to worry about FM channel overlap … meaning that if several students are using wireless in one place, you don’t have to worry about channels overlapping.
Donna Fisher Smiley, PhD, CCC-A
Wireless Accessories: Look, Mom! No Wires
Wireless Accessories by Cochlear
Obviously we want children with hearing loss to participate in the same activities as their hearing peers. But typical activities that are difficult for children with hearing loss may include:
  • Listening to a computer module without removing their hearing aids.

  • Playing video games that require a headset to communicate with other players.

  • Talking on the telephone.

  • Listening to a personal MP3 player.

Each of these situations requires children to either remove their hearing aids and wear headphones—which may not provide the child with adequate access to sound—or wear their hearing aids and listen through a speaker, which could be distracting to others and draw undesired attention to the child and his or her hearing loss. Many manufacturers produce “wireless streaming” devices that allow hearing aid users to stream an audio signal to their hearing aids. Current wireless accessories can connect hearing aids to any device with Bluetooth capabilities—and when Bluetooth is not available, the devices can be connected through a 3.5-mm jack. Our kids with hearing loss love these new communication options and their newfound “independence.”
Jessica White, AuD, CCC-A
Bone-Anchored Implants: I Can Hear It in My Bones
Vibrant Soundbridge by Med-El
For patients with unilateral sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss or mixed hearing loss, bone-anchored implants can increase audibility in noisy situations, improve speech understanding and help with sound localization—all by conducting sound directly through the temporal bone to the cochlea. Some of the newest improvements in BAIs include wireless technology—for example, Bluetooth—and accessories that allow the user to hear on the phone, watch television and listen to music without the hassle of having to use auxiliary cords. Other accessories available for BAI users include a direct audio input cord, a telecoil for use with the telephone, or a frequency modulation system. Cochlear Americas and Oticon Medical are planning to release fully magnetic BAI systems that use a magnet instead of a titanium post to connect the sound processor to the implant—making the implant site less noticeable. Many patients who have received BAIs are happy with their decision, reporting improvement in their quality of life.
Jillian Kimberlain, AuD, CCC-A
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March 2014
Volume 19, Issue 3