More often than not, we find that hearing aids do not assist the wearer equally in all situations and this may leave one a little disappointed and disillusioned. Maybe it is because most people have unrealistic expectations about what technology has to offer, or that deep down they were hoping to find a cure for their hearing difficulties. We know that hearing aids improve audibility but we also know that it’s not always enough.

With 3D TV’s, PVR’s, iPads, Blackberries and Skype, our older population are expected to participate in life much more actively now than ever before. A hearing disability is no longer considered a justification to exclude oneself from conversation, interaction or social involvement. Life has become much noisier, yet we have to keep up and participate just as before. We are expected to go to movies and restaurants, attend lectures, watch plays and listen to music. There’s bulletproof glass between the bank attendant and yourself and blaring music in every restaurant. We are required to keep up with not only our peers but also our children and grandchildren.

Staying informed and involved can be a tall order for those with hearing problems. Public places are now expected to be “Disability Friendly” but hearing impairment is mostly overlooked, leaving it to the hard-of-hearing person to cope on their own. Often, the hearing impairment is not the only challenge and there can be issues with mobility, vision and cognition.

Hearing instruments support the residual hearing, but they do not normalise it and, in many instances, one may actually want better than normal hearing to compensate for other issues. For example, if you have poor eyesight as well as a hearing problem and attend a lecture, you may not have the added benefit of being able to lip-read the speaker, so you rely on hearing every word. However with a hearing aid alone, you are probably not going to hear every word because the hearing aid relies on a clear sound signal, a good speaker and decent room acoustics. In a restaurant with friends, hearing aids must contend with all the background noise and speech generated around it. No matter how advanced or expensive the hearing aids, noise is still noisy. This is where Assistive Listening Devices become useful.

ALDs are devices that help you function better in your day-to-day communication situations. They can be used with or without hearing aids, thereby reducing listening stress and fatigue. There are various sorts, with a range of particular functions and they are meant to improve your listening abilities in situations such as:

Distance between the listener and the sound source. The further away you are from a speaker, the harder it is to hear. Sound energy fades rapidly as it travels over distance, through air and past obstacles leaving you with only a portion of the original signal. Your hearing aid may be good for hearing someone in close range, but it may need assistance in helping you hear at a distance.
Competing noise in the environment. There may be background noise that competes with the sound we want to hear, like others talking, computers, radios, TVs or traffic. Some hearing aids can try to manage the noise, but it wouldn’t know what exactly you do want to hear in that cacophony of sound.
Poor room acoustics/reverberation. Sound waves bounce off hard surfaces like windows, walls, and hard floors and will affect your ability to hear effectively. Reverberation / echo causes distorted speech.
Poor recordings/heavy accents. We all know that TV programs are often more frustrating than entertaining because of the accents, the poor sound recording and sporadic variation in volume.

In all of these instances, we find that hearing aids fall a little short. Most people cope and just live with it, but for many others who are inspired to stay independent, keep participating, involved and contributing, there are ALD’s available to ease the way. There are cell phone devices, landline attachments, TV accessories and mobile personal listeners which make hearing in challenging environments more controlled and more direct.

Units are also available to make it possible for you to hear your telephone ring better, the doorbell from down the passage, the alarm at night when you’re not wearing the hearing aids or even amplified baby/granny monitors!