by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote:
My biggest wish right now is to be able to hear better in a noisy place like a restaurant, or at a social gathering where I am moving around. I know the PockeTalker works, but that means carrying it, and I like to have my hands free. I was wondering if I should trade my current hearing aids in for ones that have t-coils and directional microphones.
I am looking for that magic device that I can carry with me and set down and be able to have the person’s voice come right up to my ears. It does not have to have a very large range.
That is some magic device alright. Trouble is, it doesn’t exist. There are good assistive listening devices (ALDs)—some work well in some situations, while others work well in different situations. However, there is no single device that works well in all situations.
The secret to better hearing is just this—the noisier the place, the closer you need the microphone to be to the speaker’s mouth. It’s that simple. This is why placing a microphone in the center of a table doesn’t work well. It picks up too much of the noise in the room.
When it comes right down to it, you have two basic choices. One is to get new hearing aids that cut out most background sounds while zeroing in on the voice of the person to whom you are speaking. The second is to use an ALD, either alone, or in conjunction with your hearing aids.
Hearing aids with directional microphones can be wonderful. About 5 years ago, Siemens came out with their BTE Triano. It had three microphones on each aid—and when set in full directional mode—boy was it great! I tried it in a crowded exhibit hall, and it cut out all the racket except the voice of the guy I was talking to. I was totally impressed!
However, most hearing aids do not have wonderful directional microphones. For example, my current hearing aids have directional microphones (2 mics on each aid), and in directional mode they do cut down noise from the sides and back by about one third, but that is not enough so that I can have an easy conversation in noisy situations. I still have to try to hear through the remaining racket.
The problem with full directional mics (as opposed to semi-directional mics) is that you have to be facing the person to hear them. For example, a person could be yelling a warning to you from behind and you’d not hear a thing; or in a group, if you are looking at the person who is talking and another person chimes in, you won’t hear them—so you won’t be able to follow group conversations; nor will you be able to hear questions at meetings because you never know which direction to turn to before the question is half over, not to mention getting whiplash from all that head spinning!
However, if you are only talking to one person, having full directional microphones makes it possible to hear the person with whom you are chatting without all the background racket.
Many modern hearing aids combine both noise cancellation and directional microphones to help you hear better in noisy situations. Naturally, some work better than others, so you have to try them out to see which works the best for you.
Your second basic option is to use an assistive device. In noisy situations, my choice, because it is relatively cheap, yet works with any hearing aids with t-coils (or without hearing aids when wearing earbuds) is the PockeTalker with a super-directional microphone or lapel microphone—depending on the situation.
For example, in noisy restaurants, I just put the PockeTalker on the table and clip the lapel mic on the person I want to hear—and wear either my hearing aids and neckloop or no hearing aids and earbuds. This decimates the background noise.
Just to give you one example. One time I was with my wife in a steakhouse restaurant. We were seated near one end—but at the other end was the bar and large-screen TV. As it happened, a ball game was on. Every time the game got exciting, there were loud yahoos from the bar patrons. This made it most difficult for me to hear my wife. However, with the PockeTalker and lapel mic, the background level dropped dramatically. I could hear my wife’s voice with ease.
I like using this combination when in restaurants or, in the car—places where you are seated and remain seated for a time.
If I am standing up and walking around—such as at receptions, or wandering around in noisy exhibit halls, my choice is a PockeTalker and handheld super-directional microphone.
Let me show you the difference. A few months ago I was in an exhibit hall talking to the various salesmen at their booths. When I started, I had my hearing aids on, but the racket was not only making it very hard for me to understand much, it was also giving me a headache. So I hauled out my trusty PockeTalker, super-directional microphone and neckloop.
I just aimed the microphone at the salesperson’s mouth and wow! It was just like he was talking right into both of my ears at the same time. The background roar almost became a whisper. That is what a properly used assistive device can do for you!
If you are interested in the PockeTalker and/or the specific microphones I use, here are the links to those wonderful devices. (They are all on the same web page—so you can just scroll down if you like.)