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Hearing amplification systems: Options for living with hearing loss

Hearing loss is very common. Age-related hearing loss begins as early as the fourth decade of life. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 28.8 million U.S. adults have significant hearing loss and could benefit from hearing aids. Yet access to hearing aids and professional audiology remains limited for many because of high out-of-pocket costs. The high cost for a pair of hearing aids and need for multiple visits for fitting and adjustments limit access for many older adults.

Hearing Loss DeafnessThere are alternatives to hearing aids, such as hearing amplification systems, which can be purchased with lower associated costs. Sara Mamo, a PhD researcher and Doctor of Audiology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and colleagues recently reviewed direct-to-consumer amplifier products that can be used as an option for addressing hearing loss. They note that personal sound amplification systems are not FDA-approved, and there are multiple products, which can make it difficult to choose. In their review of personal amplification systems, they assessed devices based on comfort, frequency output, signal-to-noise ratio, cost, and user features.

The cost of amplification systems can range from $225 to $750. One product, the CS-50+, met all five criteria. Devices that do not fit directly into the ear to improve hearing may be beneficial for persons with cognitive impairment or impaired manual dexterity. These low-tech devices are widely known as “pocket talkers” and combine easy-to-wear headphones and a microphone that amplifies sound. The cost of pocket talkers ranges from $40 to $250 with variable quality. Examples of pocket talkers suggested by Mamo and colleagues include the Williams Sound Pocketalker® and TV ears.

In addition to devices that amplify sound and hearing aids, there are important communication strategies that can enhance communication with a person who has a hearing loss. These include reducing background noise and other sound distractions. Other keys to communication offered by Mamo and her colleagues include speaking directly (face-to-face) to the listener; speaking slower, not louder; stating the topic of the conversation to begin with; and rephrasing versus repeating.

Hearing loss can create stress in communication, frustration, social isolation, and worsen cognitive decline. Communication is key, and there are many options for improving hearing.

If you are unsure how to get started on the road to better hearing, some audiologists are happy to schedule a consultation and provide you with more information that may help you understand what options would be most useful in your daily life – or check out the Hearing Loss Association of America website, which is a consumer advocacy group for persons with hearing loss.