by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady explained,
I don’t know exactly what I need. I have behind-the-ear hearing aids and I’m extremely hard of hearing. My TV is not clear so I might need a loop system. Also, I can’t hear much in the car so I might need the PockeTalker, but your website says that you can use it for the TV too. Do I need both, or would the PockeTalker do the job for both? I’m on a budget so need your help. All of these things sound awfully technical for this old lady. Do you think I can figure them out?
I understand. Not everyone is technically inclined, but the solution need not be very technical. I’ll make it simple for you.
Before we get into the details of the specific assistive devices that will fit your budget, I’d like to address your problem of lack of clarity when listening to your TV (and the same applies to many other situations too).
Properly-installed and correctly-used assistive devices such as loop systems and personal amplifiers (PockeTalkers) give you clearer speech than your expensive hearing aids will. This is just the laws of physics in action. Briefly, let me explain.
The high-frequency components of speech carry most of the intelligibility of speech, yet these same high-frequency sounds do not travel very well in air (as sound waves). Thus, the farther you are from the sound source (your TV in this case), the weaker the high-frequency component becomes and the less you understand of speech (clarity goes down).
Your expensive hearing aids have a problem because if these weak high-frequency sounds don’t reach your hearing aid’s microphones (and they don’t with increasing distance), your hearing aids can’t amplify these sounds. Thus speech sounds lack clarity and sound muffled.
This is where properly-used assistive devices come in. They take the sounds directly from the source and get them to your ears without their having to travel much through the air as sound waves. By doing this, they preserve the high-frequency sounds. The result is that you hear beautiful, clear speech.
Having said that, how much difference this will actually make to how well you understand speech also depends on how badly damaged your inner ears are, and also how well the hearing circuits in your brain are working. Neither hearing aids nor assistive devices can fix this. That is something you just have to live with.
What these devices will do is deliver to your ears the clearest speech signal possible. That way, you have the best chance of understanding speech as well (clearly) as is possible given your damaged hearing system.
Because I do not have 100% discrimination by any means, I do not understand everything I hear on my TV, even with the wonderful loop system I have installed. Therefore, I always have the closed captions turned on so I can read the words I still mis-hear. You should do the same.
Now that you have a realistic understanding of what you can expect from assistive devices, let’s look at the specific devices you mentioned.
Since you are on a tight budget, you want to get the most bang for your buck. What you need is an inexpensive device that is portable, flexible, easy to set up and easy to use under a variety of conditions.
When you look at it this way, a personal amplifier such as the PockeTalker beats out a room loop system as it is much more portable and easy to set up.
You also say, “All of these things sound awfully technical for this old lady. Do you think I can figure them out?”
The good news is that the PockeTalker is so easy to set up and use that even though you are not technically inclined—yes—you can do it! There are only two controls—an on-off/volume control wheel and a tone control. (I did say it was easy to use, didn’t I?)
Using the PockeTalker with the TV might not be as “nice” as using a room loop in that you’ll have a cord stretching from the TV to your PockeTalker, and if there is much background sound, the PockeTalker will pick up some of that racket—unlike a loop system which would pick up the sound from the TV and nothing else.
One of the things I like about the PockeTalker is that you can use it with, or without, your hearing aids. Thus, if your hearing aids break, or their batteries die on you, and you don’t have spares with you, you can still hear via the PockeTalker.
It’s easy to set up and use the PockeTalker with your TV. You can do it in 7 simple steps. Here they are.
The PockeTalker comes with a 12 foot extension cord and two plastic microphone clips.
1. Take one of the white plastic microphone clips, peel the paper off the back, align it so the “hole” is vertical, and stick it to the center of the grill of one of your TVs loudspeakers. (This will hold the microphone right against the TV’s loudspeaker.)
2. Unplug the microphone that comes with the PockeTalker (pull the “black thingy” on the top of the PockeTalker out of it’s jack) and plug it into the female end of the 12-foot extension cord.
3. Set the microphone/plug into the “hole” in the microphone clip on your TV and let the extension cord hang down to hold it in place.
4. Plug the male end of the extension cord into the microphone jack on the top of the PockeTalker (the jack from which you pulled the microphone).
Now you have two options. If your hearing aids have t-coils in them, switch them to t-coil mode.
5a. Plug a neckloop into the PockeTalker’s earphone jack. Put the neckloop around your neck.
Or, if you are not wearing your hearing aids,
5b Plug earbuds or earphones into the PockeTalker’s earphone jack and put the earbuds/earphones in your ears.
6. Turn your TV on and set the volume to a low level so you don’t blast the ears of any hearing people around.
7. Turn on the PockeTalker and set the volume so you can comfortably hear your TV.
That’s easy enough for you to do, isn’t it?
To use the PockeTalker in the car you can do exactly the same as above if you want to hook the PockeTalker to your car’s radio speakers. If you want to use the PockeTalker in the car to talk to a passenger, just skip steps 1 & 3 and pass the microphone on the extension cord to whomever is talking.
However, if there are only two of you in the car, then its tiring for your buddy to have to hold the microphone all the time in order to talk with you (and dangerous if your buddy also happens to be the driver). A much better solution (but it costs a few bucks more) is to do what I do and use a clip-on lapel microphone (which has a 3-foot cord attached to it) and clip it to the collar of your companion. Then you both can chat away and you’ll hear very well. I often do this with my wife when we are in the car. It also works well in noisy restaurants. (In the car, or at a restaurant, using the lapel microphone with it’s short 3-foot cord is much easier that trying to keep the 12 foot extension cord under control.)
Now we come to the important part. What do you need and how much does it cost?
1. PockeTalker ($129.50).
2a. If you are going to be using the t-coils on your hearing aids you’ll need a neckloop to hear via the PockeTalker ($47.95).
2b. If you are not going to be wearing your hearing aids, you’ll need a pair of earbuds or headphones. If you already have any you like, you can use them. You don’t need to buy more. However, you’ll need to get an adapter (which we can supply) or else you’ll only hear in one ear. (Earbuds for the PockeTalker that don’t need this adapter are $15.50.)
3. If you want the convenience of a lapel microphone with its short cord, you’ll need to get the lapel mic ($71.00).
Purchasing a PockeTalker should make your wallet happy. This is what I’d do if I were on a limited budget.