Hold the iPhone….For Hearing Aid Users

Using the phone is a strong and basic need for the hearing impaired

Made for iPhone has certainly caught the attention of many from both outside and within our industry. There is a great buzz around the concept within user circles as well as hearing healthcare professionals. What is the underlying driver for this technology and how is current wireless connectivity serving the hearing impaired? I will pass you to Tammara Stender of GN Resound who is guest posting today.



Hold the Phone….For Hearing Aid Users

TStenderBy Tammara Stender, Au.D.,

GN ReSound Global Audiology

The launch of the iPhone 5 to the market has been met with incredible publicity and fanfare. Everywhere in the media – in print, online or broadcast over the radio or television – people have meticulously reviewed the newest version of Apple’s telephone technology. Words like “app” have been common to popular lexicon since 2008, when the first iPhone 3G was introduced.1 Modern society is veritably entrenched in telephone technology – and embraces it with absolute ferocity.

Flash back to 1922. A letter was published in the Bell Telephone Quarterly, written by the newly widowed wife of Alexander Graham Bell to a vice-president at AT&T. In the letter, Mabel Bell wrote of her husband’s conflicting views about the telephone – he considered it “an intrusion” to his work, and did not have one in his study. In Mabel’s words, she wrote:

“Mr Bell did like to say in fun, ‘Why did I ever invent the Telephone,’ but no one had a higher appreciation of its indispensableness or used it more freely when need was—either personally or by deputy—and he was really tremendously proud of it and all it was accomplishing.…(His) one regret about the telephone was that his wife could not use it…”2

Mabel Bell had significant hearing loss, acquired through an episode of scarlet fever as a young child.3

The fields of telecommunications and audiology have come a long way since 1922, their technological advances often intertwined. No matter one’s personal feelings about telephones and how they’ve changed society (for better or worse), it is hard to imagine life without them. Yet even in the last decade, problems with using the phone have plagued people with hearing loss, including those unaided and aided with amplification.

Phone use is inherently difficult for people with hearing loss, due to the absence of visual cues for speech reading and the typical interference of background noise. Even when fitted with hearing aids, feedback can be an issue if the phone is held near the hearing aid microphone. Individuals with hearing loss report that problems using the phone correlate to reduced quality of life.4 It follows, then, that consumers rank telephone use with hearing aids as one of the highest areas of need.5

In the present day, substantial leaps forward in hearing aid and assistive listening technology have made using the telephone easier for people with hearing loss. Seventy-three per cent of consumers surveyed in 2008 reported satisfaction with their hearing aids or amplification solutions for the telephone.5 The industry is currently moving in the right direction to provide better phone use for people with hearing loss.

Traditional solutions for improving phone use include amplified telephones, speaker phones, text telephones, text messaging and telecoils integrated into some hearing aids. Telecoils allow for the phone to be held near the hearing aid without feedback, as amplification does not occur acoustically but rather through electromagnetic induction. The hearing aid user must switch to the telecoil program or setting to use the feature.

However, in recent years, advances in hearing aid technology have enabled some hearing aids to detect when a phone is near and automatically activate the phone program. For example, ReSound’s PhoneNow feature activates an “acoustic telephone” or “telecoil” program when a phone with a small magnet attached is held in close proximity to the hearing aid. The caveat is this technology was designed for landline phones, and has limited success with mobile phones.

Due in part to the high demand for better hearing with mobile phones, the hearing aid industry began implementing wireless connectivity technology into their devices. This technology allowed for transmission of the phone signal to the hearing aids through Bluetooth technology and an adaptor. The phone conversation is transmitted through the adaptor to the hearing instruments, and the user speaks into a microphone on the adaptor instead of on the mobile phone. Bluetooth-enabled landline phone users can also enjoy the benefits of wireless transmission to their hearing aids.

Wireless transmission of the phone conversation allows the user to have a greater degree of mobility as well as to enjoy the benefits of binaural hearing. For example, ReSound’s proprietary 2.4 GHz transmission system allows the telephone to be up to 30 feet away from the hearing aid user. And since the signal is transmitted to both hearing aids simultaneously, users typically benefit from better speech understanding due to binaural listening advantages.6 It is not surprising that this technological advancement coincides with hearing aid users reporting a significant increase in satisfaction when using mobile phones.5

Would A.G. Bell be “proud of all we’re accomplishing” to make using the telephone better and more enjoyable to people with hearing loss, like his wife? I think he would. But as any inventor will tell you, there is always more to be done. Flash forward a number of years…please hold on.


1. PC Magazine: App definition. Available at: http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,1237,t=app&i=37865,00.asp. Accessed: September 19, 2012.

2. Bell, Mabel. Twenty-Five Years Ago: Dr. Bell’s Telephone Service (letter, dated August 24, 1922), Bell Telephone Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 3, October 1922, reprinted in Bell Telephone Magazine, Autumn 1947, pg. 174-5.

3. Wikipedia: Alexander Graham Bell. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell. Accessed: September 19, 2012.

4. Dalton DS, Cruickshanks KJ, Klein BEK, Klein R, Wiley TL, Nondahl DM. The impact of hearing loss on quality of life in older adults. Gerontologist. 2003:43(5),661-8.

5. Kochkin S. MarkeTrak VIII: Consumer satisfaction with hearing aids is slowly increasing. Hearing Journal. 2010:63(1),19-20,22,24,26,28,30-32.

6. Picou E, Ricketts T. Comparison of hearing aid-based telephone routing strategies. Seminar presented at: American Academy of Audiology; April 2010; San Diego.

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About Geoffrey Cooling

Geoffrey Cooling is an Irish hearing care blogger and the author of The Little Book of Hearing Aids and Audiology Marketing in a Digital World. He has been involved in the Hearing Healthcare Profession since 2007 when he qualified as a hearing aid audiologist. He has worked in private practice and for a major hearing aid manufacturer. He has become recognised as an authority within the field of hearing care and hearing aids.

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