The new Apple iPhone 14 can “caption” (i.e., display text). This is a very important capability for people who are hard of hearing or reluctant to let other people see their hearing aids.
In her weekly newsletter, our Congresswoman Anna Eshoo reminded us that hearing aids are now available over the counter without a prescription or exam. The ability to buy over-the-counter hearing aids is going to save hearing-loss patients an average of $3,000 per pair. Eshoo first voted for this policy in 2017; it took five years for this to become a reality, so we are grateful for the speed with which the FDA and our House of Representatives conduct business. HLAA provides an OTC Tips Sheet for patients, from this link.
Apple’s new iPhone 14 has added a feature that is important for people with poor hearing. People with poor hearing need to have some way of reading what has been said. Captioning has been done by humans (who have good hearing and are trained to make motions that the poor hearing can understand) or electronics that can “hear” and display them on a screen. Historically, there was some specialized software that runs on phones and (sizable) companies that sell remote captioning services. We have purchased this new iPhone and found that it is impressive.
The new Eargo 6 shown in Vegas at CES 2022 can mask background noise and “noise between pauses in speech.” Eargo announced that it is using a new proprietary algorithm for Sound Adjust that can identify the user environment without input from the users. This is an improvement over Eargo 5’s Sound Match feature which required at least 8-10 minutes of user input so as to build a user profile that can identify the environment and then help the user adjust the sound. Eargo 6 includes a “Mask Mode” where a user can press the button to identify that the speaker is wearing a Mask, and the Eargo App automatically adjusts the volume when the user taps that feature on the phone App. The Eargo 6 retails for $2,950 and is rated IPX7 for water resistance. This means they can be submerged for 30 minutes at a depth of one meter without water damage. Though Eargo 6 may be water-resistant, it may not be advisable to wear Eargo 6 in the pool because they are very small and will probably easily get lost while swimming.
We normally wear a neck gaiter, because the standard masks with ear loops can knock off our hearing aids. Unfortunately, when we have a medical appointment the nurse either puts a cheap standard one on top of my gaiter or makes me replace it with a standard one. Fortunately, there are effective alternatives. One is to get a mask with elastic bands that go around your head instead of around your ears. Others include tie-on masks (not very convenient, though), N95 respirator masks, sweatband with attached buttons, and barrettes.
Nearly all the members of my marching band (the Los Trancos Woods Community Marching Band) play the songs from memory, but I have to have paper music scores. Can’t Memorize Music Anymore. Scientists describe our “cement” memory and say that our memories can only store so much information, so when we learn something new it is hard for it to get “stuck” in your cement memory.
Technology is rescuing people from a music-less life, as hearables can monitor their brain and body. Not Impossible Labs, the award-winning technology incubator and the content studio has created Music: Not Impossible, a Vibro-textile wearable that creates an immersive experience of music for both deaf and hearing people. Actually, the development team abandoned the idea of a vest, turning its attention to different vibrations on different parts of the body. And some people not only listen to music but also play an instrument. In our case, it is the trumpet, for which there is a whole website.
The technology in hearing aids continues to develop, enabling them to offer their wearers additional functions beyond sound amplification. Hearing aids maker Widex has upgraded its MOMENT family of hearing aids to offer streaming music, calls, and other content from Android smartphones (Android Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA). (This should not be mistaken for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.) In an unrelated development, Apple Inc. is exploring possibilities to add health-related functions such as enhancing hearing, reading body temperature, and monitoring posture to its AirPods. Unfortunately, ill-meaning people could use the technology for evil ends, including haunting the wearers. Unrelated to Android and Apple, we ourselves had a scary experience: We were wearing our hearing aids and they were working fine when they started saying “Check Partner”, but when we checked both of the hearing aids they were in place just fine. Then we started hearing a couple of voicemails loud enough for us to understand.
Since 2020, Apple included Headphone Accommodations in the new iOS releases; the sound picked up by these microphones is amplified with both frequency-dependency gain and compression, giving App AirPods Pro hearing aid-like capability.
Many hearing aid manufacturers advertise that their products are so small that they cannot be seen. This is ill-advised for two reasons. First, many hearing aid users are older and have poorer coordination in their fingers so they have trouble inserting/removing and adjusting the hearing aids, as well as changing batteries. Second, people speaking to the users don’t realize that they have trouble hearing so they don’t speak louder and slower.
More likely you would lose it by NOT dancing, but by listening too much with the volume turned up on your iPod or iPhone, or other devices, because many of the earbuds in use aren’t very effective so people turn up the volume. Studies have found that users of these Apple devices can be listening at 100-105 decibels. This is well above the OSHA-recommended 85 decibels.
Remember, ears that get damaged stay damaged. They can’t be repaired. And when people talk about decibels (dBA), which is how loudness is measured, we need to remember that they are logarithmic, so that a small increase in the number means a big increase in the noise level (adding 10 dBA DOUBLES the noise level). In the case of dancers, OSHA’s estimate of 110 decibels for discotheques means that the well-advised dancer should limit their dancing in such establishments.
Fortunately, loudness meters—either standalone models or apps for smartphones—are not expensive, and the serious dancer shouldn’t worry about looking a bit geeky using them. More simply, he/she can always carry earplugs, and use them when things get too loud. It’s a lot better than suffering hearing loss for the rest of his/her life.