Bluetooth-enabled Hearing Aids
What Are Bluetooth Enabled Hearing Aids?
Developers of hearing aids are always looking for new and improved ways of making hearing aids better and more useful in people's lives. Bluetooth technology is being used to make it easier for hearing aid users to connect their hearing aids to various devices for improved sound quality directly from the sound source.
Most new hearing aid technology come equipped with some level of Bluetooth capability. This means Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids can be wirelessly connected via a wireless streaming accessory to devices such as televisions, cell phones, FM systems, GPS systems, Tablets, and PDA's. Some hearing aids are able to connect directly to these devices without a streaming device.
Bluetooth technology works similarly to wireless Internet (WiFi), where sounds are sent through an invisible electronic signal. To use Bluetooth one must always connect one device to another using a process called pairing. There is a handshake between two devices and they talk to each other.
The Bluetooth accessory is compatible in most styles of hearing aids, including behind-the-ear (BTE), mini BTE, in-the-ear, and in-the-canal styles, though each manufacturer provides a different array of products and accessories that are Bluetooth-enabled.
Benefits of Bluetooth Enabled Hearing Aids
Hearing aids of the past often limited the wearer’s access to using personal audio devices such as mobile phones and music players. For example, in order to use a music player while jogging, the hearing aid wearer had to remove his hearing aids to accommodate a pair of earbuds. A benefit of today’s wireless hearing aids is that it is possible for the hearing impaired individual to connect with personal electronic devices and stream signals with great audio quality directly to the hearing aid through the use of Bluetooth. Think of them as a wireless pair of headphones: they are convenient and cordless for high-quality sound, and perhaps more important that the hearing aids are prescriptively set for the user.
Many years ago, the telecoil was a new, exciting technology for hearing aid users to be able to use landline phones. Similarly, Bluetooth is now becoming the exciting new technology for making connectivity to the everyday world a more widespread and reliable possibility for hearing aid users. Making phone calls, using a tablet or computer and even watching TV at home can be an enjoyable experience for the tech-savvy user. Bluetooth can also eliminate the annoyances of technology use with traditional hearing aids, such as feedback and static noise interference.
How does Bluetooth work with wireless hearing aids?
The wireless hearing aids can either be paired directly to an Apple device (if labeled as Made for iPhone™) or be paired with a small transmitter device called a streamer, and then the streamer can be paired with external devices.
During the initial consultation about hearing aids with your hearing care provider, patients should discuss their needs for wireless connectivity. If there is a desire to connect with a mobile phone, tablet, computer, music player or other Bluetooth-enabled device, the hearing care provider will recommend a set of wireless hearing aids and if appropriate, a compatible streamer.
When it’s all set up, the streamer will pick up the Bluetooth signal from your phone, for example, and send it to your hearing aid via an FM signal or electromagnetic field, depending on the manufacturer’s design. Usually the streamer is worn around the neck or placed in a pocket for hands-free operation. And as we stated, some are not dependent on a streamer and will directly communicate with the hearing aids.
Multiple devices can usually be paired to one streamer, so you can easily switch between different devices. For example, you can be connected to your mobile phone while you’re streaming a movie from your tablet. The streamer is able to interrupt or pause the audio from your tablet in order to bring you the audio signal from an incoming phone call.
Remote control of your hearing aids
Commonly, there are also capabilities for remotely changing the volume or program from the streamer. This is especially useful if your hearing aids are too small to accommodate external controls.
Last but not least, Bluetooth is an electronics industry standard protocol. This means it’s not unique to any particular hearing aid or hearing aid manufacturer, so there is uniformity in the way that it works across all devices.
The platform has been tested and refined already, as it’s been in use for many years in the mobile phone industry. As stated above, the Bluetooth connection is secure and there’s no interference.
What are the Disadvantages?
When Bluetooth-compatible devices are streaming to the hearing aid, the microphone inside the hearing aid may be turned off or turned down, depending on the hearing aid you are using and the way it is set by your hearing specialist. This can have its disadvantages, as you won't have amplification of other environmental sounds around you during use if you prefer that. This will ultimately depend on which particular technology is being used and how it is programmed. Some users want to have more control and others less so; ultimately we need to help you find out what works for you the best and apply it in programming and in practice.
Bluetooth-compatible hearing aids do require some simple set up steps before they can work with electronic devices, so you may require some help from your hearing specialist or technology-savvy friend or family member.
As stated before, some hearing aids require the hearing aid wearer to use a small transmitter accessory, or streamer. The transmitter converts the Bluetooth signal from the electronic device or mobile phone to a wireless signal that is understood by the hearing aid. Being out of range of the transmitter means that the Bluetooth signal will not reach the hearing aids.
Finally, we want to access the honest use of Bluetooth-compatible hearing aids and accessories related to their hearing loss and lifestyle; not everyone is in need of communicating regularly or have problems with a cell phone, MP3 player, computer or TV.
Need Some More Help?
If you are interested in Bluetooth-compatible hearing devices, please contact us about all of your options. Let us know of the listening situations you are in each day and the types of other devices you use throughout the day. Ask to see a hearing aid and the streaming device and experience a real-time demonstration. Talk to us about how Bluetooth-compatible hearing aids could make your daily interactions with your world a better experience.