by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote,
I need a device to help me hear soft spoken people in an office. I am a counselor and for the past year I find I have to strain to hear many people. Is there a device I could use to help me hear them better? Incidentally, I just had my hearing aids adjusted, but maybe I should have them made louder even though they sounded too loud at first in the audiologist’s office.
There are numerous devices that can help you. Some cost an arm and a leg and others just a little toe! Some use one technology and others use other technologies—e.g. FM, hard wired, bluetooth, infrared, hearing loop, etc. None of these different technologies are inherently significantly better than each other—just different. As a result, you might use one technology in one situation, and a different technology in a different situation. The trick is to pick the best technology for the specific listening situation you are in.
For example, if you have your own office for counseling, you can keep most background noise out by shutting the door. Therefore, since you don’t have to worry about background noise making it difficult for you to hear your clients, you just need a simple personal amplification system to help you hear your clients clearly. If you sit behind a desk, or around a table with your client on the other side, there is no need to go to the expense of having an FM system. A simple hard-wired system is all you need.
What I do in my office is I have a PockeTalker sitting on my desk. I plug a super-directional microphone into the microphone jack on the PockeTalker and aim it at the person I’m talking with. (This microphone comes with a heavy-duty desk stand so you just aim the microphone at the person’s face and forget about it.) To hear, you can wear earbuds or headphones if you are not wearing hearing aids or have hearing aids that do not have t-coils. If you are wearing hearing aids that have t-coils, just switch them to t-coil mode and plug a neckloop into the earphone jack on the PockeTalker.
With this system you will hear wonderfully well—it’s worked well for me for years. Using this method, your clients don’t have to wear a microphone, and thus they may feel more comfortable.
A slightly different approach would be to use a lapel microphone instead and clip the microphone to the client’s collar if he doesn’t mind. That puts the microphone close to the client’s mouth and you get the best possible sound, but the super-directional microphone works almost as well without having anything attached to the client. Actually, I use both methods depending on the situation.
An even more elegant, but less portable, system is to loop your office with a room loop. Then you plug either of the above microphones into the loop amplifier and simply switch your hearing aids to t- coil mode to hear your client. The advantage of this is that you are free to move around your office or sit anywhere and still hear you client without any wires connecting you to the device. I have my office looped and can do this any time I want to as well.
If you purchased hearing aids without t-coils, you have just shot yourself in the foot as you can’t couple these inexpensive assistive devices to your hearing aids. Some hearing aids only come with fancy (read expensive) proprietary FM or RF or Bluetooth systems but then you have to use the expensive proprietary remote microphone and thus greatly limit your options.
If you are interested in any of these options, here are the links to the various devices I’ve mentioned. Here are the links for the PockeTalker and the super-directional microphone or the lapel microphone. And one microphone I didn’t mention above—which is useful if you are talking with two or more people and thus don’t want to keep re-aiming the directional microphone as each person speaks—is the Voice Tracker microphone. This microphone automatically electronically aims itself to whomever is talking. You can see this Voice Tracker microphone here.
If you’d like to loop your office, then the loop system I use and love is the Contacta HLD3 loop amplifier.
Now, concerning the volume on your hearing aids—if you need your audiologist to adjust the volume, it sounds like you have hearing aids with automatic volume controls. I do not recommend people get hearing aids with only automatic volume unless they also have a manual volume control override so you can adjust the volume to meet your needs in any given situation. Don’t get me wrong. I love automatic volume controls, but at the same time, I have manual overrides so I can set the volume to whatever is comfortable to me at the moment. Think of it this way. I set the overall average volume and then the automatic volume control works to keep the volume at that level.
You’ve just shot yourself in the foot if you only have automatic volume on your hearing aids. In my opinion, it’s not smart to have to go to your audiologist every time you want the overall volume level changed. No hearing aid can figure out exactly what you want to be able to hear and adjust the volume to that level by itself—no matter how much hype the manufacturers spout to that effect.
By the same token, do not get hearing aids that only have automatic t-coils. There is nothing wrong with automatic t-coils for using the phone, but they typically will not work with neckloops and room loops. Thus, make sure your t-coils can be manually turned on (typically, they are programmed into one of your hearing aids’ memories). You can have both methods in your aids if you want—manual in one memory and automatic in another memory for example.
There are lots of other devices out there, but the above are simple, reliable and inexpensive and are not in any way proprietary in how they “couple” to your hearing aids. To me, that’s a winning combination.