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  • Last modified 34 days ago (Aug. 17, 2017)

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Hearing aids go high tech

Staff writer

Many people lose some of their hearing ability as they get older. For Bob Wall of Hillsboro and Effie Smith of Marion, both 71, experienced hearing problems that came on gradually.

Both have found help through hearing aids.

Hearing aids have undergone a technological transformation in recent years. The more advanced ones contain an assistive listening device that allows them to connect digitally to smartphones.

Wall, a retired banker who operates a 400-acre farm, got hearing aids a year ago after going to an audiologist and learning that he had 46 percent of normal hearing in his left ear and 92 percent in his right ear.

Using an iPhone that is hearing aid compatible, he can program them to adjust volumes and settings and to connect to other digital devices.

Wall said he had heard that hearing aids were frustrating, so he embraced them reluctantly. However, unlike many others his age, he wasn’t afraid of new technology.

“I’ve embraced technology since it started,” he said. “I was a banker, and I became the IT person at my bank.”

He sets the aids according to the environment he is in, whether interacting one-on-one or in a group. In a group setting, he sets it on restaurant mode, which helps to cut out background noise.

The program connects Wall’s hearing aids remotely to the TV.

“I can lower the TV volume and still hear it,” he said.

He can lay the phone down in one room, go to another room, and still hear someone speaking.

“My hearing is so much better than before that it’s unbelievable,” Wall said. “My hearing aids are like mini-computers. They are a little bit of a hassle, but they turn your hearing around.”

He said he has to be careful not to get them wet. Sometimes the default settings on his phone have to be reset.

Wall attributes his hearing loss to growing up on a farm and running a tractor for long periods. He first found out he had a slight hearing problem in his left ear almost 30 years ago but learned to live with it.

The hearing loss became more pronounced five years ago but it wasn’t until last year that he finally did something to improve his hearing. The aids were expensive but worth the money, he said. He estimates he can hear 85 to 90 percent as well as a person with normal hearing.

Improvements continue to be made in hearing aid technology. The newest versions are water, sweat, and dust proof. Some are rechargeable, so they don’t need batteries.

Smith has been wearing a hearing aid in her left ear for three years. She said her family has a history of hearing loss.

She said her hearing loss was gradual and became especially noticeable when in a church or group gathering.

She was referred to an audiologist at Kansas State University Speech and Hearing Center, who fitted her with a hearing aid.

“I’ve been very satisfied,” she said. “I’ve had no problems.”

She has been holding off on getting a hearing aid for the right ear after it started to give her problems in April.

“All of a sudden I had a loud blast in my right ear,” she said. “I lost all my hearing and had horrible ringing.”

She went to her local doctor and got medication for possible swelling but didn’t get relief. She went to an ear, nose, and throat doctor who gave her an anti-viral medication for a possible infection. An MRI to check for a tumor on the auditory nerve produced negative results.

In the meantime, some of her hearing in that ear returned.

When she revisited the audiologist, he adjusted the volume of her hearing aid and told her to allow time for the left ear to take over.

“My brain has to adjust to better hearing in that ear,” she said.

She needs help in the higher range of hearing in her right ear and eventually expects to get a hearing aid for it.

“When you get to the point where you feel like you’re missing out on life and are embarrassed that you can’t hear people when they talk to you, that’s when it’s time to do something about it,” she said.

Last modified Aug. 17, 2017

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