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Using Apple Watch with Hearing Aids

Article By: Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology


There are an estimated 37.5 million people with some form of hearing impairment in the United States. Of the millions of adults between the ages of 20 and 69 who could gain some benefit from wearing a hearing aid, only 16% choose to regularly wear one. This is due to a number of factors with inconvenience being high on the list.

People who decide to not wear a hearing aid (even though they need one) may see a negative impact to their quality of life. Good hearing makes communicating with others so much easier, allows us to fully appreciate music and enjoy social gatherings. Modern hearing aids can dramatically improve a person’s quality of life.

Hearing aids have also become much more technologically advanced in the past 10 years. No longer simply large devices worn around the ear, many hearing aids are so small that it can be difficult to recognize that a person is wearing one. Hearing aids are now commonly integrated with other forms of technology including mobile phones. The latest product to offer integration and advanced functionality for hearing aids is the Apple Watch.

Apple and Accessibility

Apple have been at the forefront of accessibility for many years, with their iPhone and iPad devices offering superb functionality for people with impaired eyesight or hearing. For example, the iPhone offers a user interface that works with specific bluetooth hearing aids. The interface allows users to:

  • Control the hearing aid volume with their iPhone via bluetooth
  • Use a special hearing aid mode that can help improve the audio quality of some hearing aids
  • Store presets that save volume and balance information for certain environments
  • Ability to view the battery levels in hearing aid

The Apple Watch also offers some basic functionality straight “out of the box” for the hearing impaired: Mono audio balance (to adjust mono signal levels between ears) and the Taptic engine (which uses vibration to alert people of a new event). However, the real power of the Apple Watch is its ability to create custom applications for specific hearing aids.

Hearing Aid Applications Integrating with the Apple Watch

The key advantage with linking an Apple Watch to a hearing aid is convenience. When in public, the noise levels can rapidly change. As soon as you enter a noisy environment, you can simply look at your watch and with a flick of your finger, have better hearing.

There are a number of custom applications that link the Apple Watch with specific types of hearing aids. Companies including Phonak, Resound, Beltone and Starkey are currently leading the way in developing hearing aid applications for the Apple Watch.

Phonak RemoteControl App

Phonak’s much anticipated entry into the Apple Watch category is expected soon. This will no doubt continue on from the success of their RemoteControl iPhone app. The functionality for the RemoteControl app includes:

  • Individually control the listening directions (Speech in 360°)
  • Individual L/R volume control
  • Direct selection of program and audio sources
  • Configuration of Phonak streamer settings
  • Connectivity check to the hearing aids
  • Easy pairing help for Phonak streamers

ReSound Smart App

One of Phonak’s major competitors is ReSound, who offer a range of technologically advanced hearing aids and apps. Their Apple Watch app offers the following functionality for ReSound Linx2 hearing aids:

  • Simple volume control and equalizer
  • Hearing aid presets and ability to receive streams from bluetooth devices
  • Find my hearing aid feature
  • Noise reduction
  • Speech focus settings

Beltone HearPlus

Beltone was the first company to release its hearing aid application for the Apple Watch. This app links the Beltone Legend hearing aids to Apple Watch. The HearPlus App features:

  • Wind noise reduction
  • Presets for volume and balance settings
  • One tap noise reduction
  • Speech Focus

Starkey Apple Watch App

One of the more feature filled applications, it offers the following capabilities:

  • Ability to stream and balance audio from multiple sources including phone calls, videos, FaceTime calls and other media
  • One finger “SoundSpace” feature to quickly alter volumes and balance
  • Presets with geotagging capabilities. When entering a noisy space you have added a preset to before, your Apple Watch will recognize it and change hearing aid settings automatically
  • Find my hearing aids feature
  • Quick mute for hearing aids

Thanks to these advanced Apple Watch apps, hearing aid users now have a great deal of flexibility and control available to them!

Bio: Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology works for UK based HearingDirect. She is HCPC Registered (Health Care Professions Council in the UK) and has many years experience in the hearing aids industry.

Can You Trust Your Ears?

We know our eyes are easily deceived, but what about our ears? Can we be fooled into hearing something that isn’t there?

Here is an interesting video from ASAPScience explaining auditory illusions.

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I know I have a Hearing Loss … But I Don’t Want Hearing Aids!

Imagine you were having trouble seeing and frequently had to ask family members questions like, “Who is that?” or “What’s happening on the TV?”

Then, imagine you went to the eye doctor and were told you had a vision problem. What would you do? Would you try to improve your vision with either glasses or contact lenses? The chances are you would.

But what if, instead of your vision, we were talking about your hearing? If you had a problem, would you do something about it?

Unfortunately, many people wouldn’t.

In a survey conducted by Sergei Kochkin, of the Better Hearing Institute, it was found that people generally wait seven years after diagnosis of hearing loss to pursue hearing aids.

Why the delay?

The progress of hearing loss is often so gradual that many people don’t realize the impact until the situation becomes quite severe. They’ve been compensating for years, but those techniques are just not working anymore. I’ve had many patients tell me that they think they’re doing fine, but they’ve come to see me because their family members think otherwise. “They just need to stop mumbling,” is a common complaint. But are they mumbling, or has the hearing loss finally reached a critical point?

Some patients are concerned that everyone will know that they’re wearing hearing aids. While this may be true, even though they’re smaller and more discreet than ever, I’ve always thought that a hearing loss is much more noticeable and negative than hearing aids. But over the past 20 years my practice has successfully fit thousands patients with hearing aids. So maybe I’m a bit biased!

Many people are concerned that hearing aids will make them look old. I’ll refer again to the above and add that saying, “What?” all the time also makes you look old, and it frustrates the people who are trying to communicate with you.

I have had hearing aid patients of all ages, from a few years old to over 100 years old. Hearing aids are for anyone who needs them, regardless of age.

Cost is certainly a concern for many patients.

Will insurance cover hearing aids?

This is a complicated question, as there are many types of insurance, each with different benefits. The best thing to do is to call your insurance company and ask what your hearing aid benefit is, if any. If you don’t have a benefit, it’s helpful to know that there are a range of instruments available, and they typically fall into three broad categories: entry level, mid-level and advanced. What will work best for you depends largely on your lifestyle. The more active you are and the more often you are in complex listening environments (background noise, multiple talkers, etc.), the more you will appreciate the higher level technology and the brain support it provides. Also, keep in mind that it isn’t a good idea to save money by only getting a single high level hearing aid if you are prescribed two. Get the left and the right, and if you need to save money, get a lower-level hearing aid. The benefits of wearing two hearing aids outweigh the increase in technology level.

If you are on the fence, call my office today to have your hearing tested and to discuss what kind of hearing aids would be right for you. You don’t need to wait seven years. It’s time to start hearing what you’ve been missing. And don’t forget to ask about our “Try It Before You Buy It” program where we will fit you with a brand new pair of hearing aids and allow you to try them in the real world for free! There are no costs involved and you have no obligation to purchase. It’s a 100% FREE test drive of the latest hearing technology.

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Five Unhealthy Habits That Can Harm Your Hearing


Researchers are always discovering more connections between the ears and the health of other body systems. If you’ve been looking for one more reason to drop a bad habit consider your hearing. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back!

You’ve known for many years that smoking is bad for you; it even says it directly on the box of cigarettes. One of the often-overlooked side effects of smoking is hearing loss. The chemicals produced by smoking a cigarette inhibit your inner ear’s ability to transmit vibrations. The more you smoke the more irreversible damage will be done. Second-hand smoke has the same effect on loved ones.

A study in 2010 found that moderate to high alcohol intake results in brain damage that keeps the brain from being able to interpret and process sounds. The trouble is even worse for folks with alcoholism, the central auditory cortex will become damaged, which may lead to brain shrinkage. Damage to the inner ear known as ototoxicity, is also possible for excessive drinkers. High levels of alcohol in the bloodstream create a toxic environment, which damages the hair cells in the cochlea.

Being over weight puts you at risk for a barrage of problems ranging from diabetes to circulatory trouble, to straining your heart, all of which have been linked to hearing loss. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital published a study in 2013 that found women with a higher body mass index had a 17 percent higher risk of hearing loss. The study also found that simple physical activity, such as walking for 2 or more hours a week lowered that risk of hearing loss.

Skipping the Dentist
You may not immediately think your dental health and hearing health are connected, but they certainly are. Poor dental health allows harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream, narrowing and blocking arteries that lead to the brain. This can interrupt the way the brain receives signals from the auditory nerve. Bad oral hygiene can also lead to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes, which have been linked to hearing loss.

Skipping the Doctor
An annual physical can detect hearing loss, but more importantly the doctor will be able to tell you if your hearing loss is caused by something other than age. An obstruction, such as earwax buildup, inflammation or tumor can be addressed and possibly get you hearing again or stop further damage.

It is true many people lose their hearing as they age, but these five bad habits can easily speed up that process. If you take care of your body, avoid these bad habits, and protect your ears you may be able to maintain your hearing. If you think you are already suffering from hearing loss, you should not put off getting tested. The longer you wait the more damage you do. The Hearing Professionals offers a free hearing test and consultation, so you have nothing to lose, except your hearing loss.

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The Amazing Digital Gloves That Give Voice To The Voiceless


At the front of an auditorium filled with hundreds of people, a programmer from the Ukraine slipped on a pair of thick, black gloves, each dotted with flex sensors and a micro controller. A couple of feet away was a smartphone receiving signals from the gloves via Bluetooth. When the time was right, the programmer made a gesture, carefully and deliberately moving his hands and arms, before an automated female voice boomed through the speakers: “Nice to meet you.” The audience cheered.

This was Enable Talk, a pair of gloves that with the help of sensors and new smartphone software developed by a team of twenty-something programmers from the Ukraine, could change the way deaf people communicate with the world around them. Having worked on it for less than a year, they won first prize at Microsoft’s coveted Imagine Cup last week in Sydney, Australia, getting $25,000 in prize money. They’ll spend it on making their gloves say much more than just “Nice to meet you,” or “We want to see kangaroo” — among the dozen or so sign-language phrases that the gloves can currently recognize.01

There is no limit to how many gestures they can program into the software, said team member Maxim Osika during a phone interview from Sydney. “The problem is we are not native speakers,” he added. “So it wouldn’t make sense for us to accumulate the gestures.” Once they’re back in the Ukraine, Osika and his team will work with a handful of deaf students at their college and other native signers, to build a “library of standard signs” for their device.

But it won’t be easy, thanks to the wide chasm between the languages of computer code and signs. They will have to work closely with those who speak the latter if they want their device to be truly effective. “Deaf people have their own sub culture and it’s hard to communicate with them in general,” Osika admitted. Since the project project was first introduced, a few have complained on online forums that hearing people should make more effort to understand the hearing-impaired, not the other way around.

The team is pressing ahead, regardless, pushing to bring their algorithm’s recognition rate up to 99%, from the current 90%, and boost its processing speed. “One of the goals with our development is to work with people who can natively use sign language and build a library of standard signs,” he said, adding that it takes about three minutes to program each new gesture into the system, or four repetitions of the sign.01

News of Enable Talk’s win has created a ripple of excitement among other programmers, and the team has been inundated with offers of help in the last few days from around the world. “We had an engineer from France, some people from Kazakhstan, a developer from Japan, a guy from Russia,” Osika recalled. “We don’t even have time to respond to all the emails. So many pop up all the time.”

One developer was confident he could port the software to Google‘s Android platform and Apple‘s iOS, and help build a library for Japanese sign language. The programmers will start sending prototypes to partners who can help them with development.

What about patenting the device? “Actually we haven’t discussed it yet,” Osika said, before adding, “Let me just check with the other guys, what they think.” A few moments later Osika was back on the phone. “We’ll see how it goes. If someone tries to develop a device like ours, we’re not Apple or Motorola. We’re not going to sue anyone. We’re learning towards more open-source development.” The team hopes to get something to market around 2014, stick together and maybe win another grant from Microsoft.

Their device may seem like an obvious solution for deaf people, but there are only a few competing products, according to Osika, who is who is 27 and studied programming at night at the Donetsk Computer Academy while working day-shifts as a factory manager. One is the AcceleGlove (also open-source), which contains six accelerometers and sends signals to a PC; as of June this year it has ceased production because its embedded sensors are no longer available from its manufacturer.  Osika says the AcceleGlove costed around $1,200 and he’s hoping Enable Talk will cost half that amount or less. “Their functionality is nowhere near what we wanted to achieve,” he said of the competing products, none of which were wireless or had a system for recognizing full signs. “They only recognised finger gestures, or letters.”

Osika and his team mates, Anton Stepanov, Anton Posternikov and Valeriy Yasakov, are all in their mid-to-late 20s and got the idea for the glove when they noticed that a handful of deaf and hearing-impaired athletes at their college were struggling to communicate with their hearing peers.  They started their conceptual research last November and in January 2012 started building the prototype and writing the algorithms.team_1

Once their first prototype was finished, they asked a few of the deaf athletes to test it. “Many of them were so shy they didn’t want to try it,” said Osika. “Only a few brave ones wanted to engage with us.” Not only was it hard to communicate with them, there was an underlying fear, he added, that the programmers were giving them false hope. “That they’ll see a device that might possibly solve their problem but not [be finished].”

The original prototype only worked with finger recognition, or the spelling out of words. The athletes told the team to implement full hand movement recognition. Sometimes they were working through the night, other times meeting a couple of times a week. “It took us six months to get to where we are today,” he said. Now that the gloves can start translating words like “You” and “meet,” it’s time to enhance the breadth of the underlying algorithm, go back to the fellow students and deaf societies in the Ukraine, more meetings and possibly more late-night programming sessions.

“The long-term perspective is to create a company that would manufacture and sell the device,” Osika said confidently. “For now we want to focus on further development, and make our device as great as possible.”


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What Beats by Dre Are Actually Doing to Your Ears

Dr. Dre

Last week, Apple purchased Beats Music for $3 billion — the largest acquisition the company has ever made. With it, the company acquired Dr. Dre and longtime Interscope Geffen A&M Records executive Jimmy Iovine, the men behind Beats and a “sound revolution” who are actually doing irrevocable damage to our ability to appreciate music.

They aren’t alone in it. Beats is just the biggest representative of the cultural trend of constant headphone use, and the silent epidemic that has come with it.

Dre and Iovine’s headphones are engineered so that you “hear your music the way the artist would play it back” — specifically, the way hip-hop and rap artists, like Dre, would want to play it back: with a lot of bass, in the way that leads to hearing loss. For most high-quality headphone brands, that’s the sell.

Beats’ headphones have been flaunted in rap music videos and touted as expensive fashion accessories, creating a commercialized hip-hop culture that stems from the celebrity of Dre’s production history. As a result, much of Beats’ engineered appeal is in its emphasis on low, bass-heavy frequencies of the “Xxplosive” sort. It makes sense: Rap and hip-hop are often characterized by their heavy, booming bass lines. And while a human ear normally registers frequencies anywhere between 20 Hz and 20 kHz (or 20,000 Hz), the sub-bass sounds in rap songs, like a classic 808 drum kick, will range as low as 80 to 20 Hz. The lowest A on a piano, for example, vibrates somewhere around 25 Hz. In order to hear those notes, you have turn the volume way up.

Frequencies that are often “felt” through stereo systems are what Beats and other high-end headphones aim for — that’s the way the artist produced it in the studio. But sometimes, those bass-heavy details can be too much. While Beats can recreate the feel of a tight, punchy bassline, a boomier backdrop, like Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M,” has the tendency to overpower and weaken a song’s mid-tones, things like guitars and voices. So in addition to having louder bass from the get-go, listeners often turn up headphone volume in order to hear those higher frequencies, and consequently “feeling” the bass affects our ears even more. Deeper bass means louder playback, especially when we’re listening to the sort of hyper-compressed, ear-fatiguing music that is associated with mainstream pop and hip-hop. And it’s nothing new that prolonged exposure to loud music, especially through headphones, causes hearing loss.

It’s considered safe listening to music at 85 decibels or lower. Crank your Beats all the way up to their 115-decibel peak (the kind of volumes you might reach when on a loud train) and you could experience severe hearing loss after just 15 minutes of listening every day. When our ears are frequently exposed to high decibels, the inner ears’ hair-like fibers, called stereocilia, which are responsible for activating frequencies of particular sounds, can be permanently damaged over time. This can lead to noise-induced hearing loss, which is often ignored, or tinnitus — aka that buzzing in your ears after a night of loud music. Even though that buzz may be gone by the morning, its damaging effects can linger.

And we may just keep turning it up. While many have already anticipated a deafness epidemic, it seems increasingly likely. In 2010, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 1 in 5 U.S. teens already suffer from hearing loss, and 1 in 20 have “mild or worsening” symptoms. So if Beats is leading a sonic revolution, it’s worth remembering: Sometimes revolutions end badly.



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Summer Do’s and Don’ts For Hearing Aid Wearers


Summer is (finally) almost here. Many people look forward to this season because it gives them the opportunity to indulge in activities requiring warm, sunny days, like boating, swimming, hiking, and traveling.

Wearing hearing aids shouldn’t keep you from enjoying yourself, but it is important to remember exposure to high heat can damage their outer casings and interior components. Therefore, whether you plan to spend your days basking in the sun by the beach or pool, or visiting exotic destinations, you should prepare to keep your hearing aids safe and functioning.

Avoid extreme temperature changes.  The plastic outer shells of hearing aids can melt if exposed directly to intense sunlight for long periods or in extreme heat, such as inside a car parked in a sweltering outdoor lot. Conversely, your hearing aids’ inner workings are more at risk from significant changes in temperature rather than heat or sun exposure specifically. This is because moisture condenses within the hearing aid as you go from a cool, air-conditioned Protecting-Your-Hearing-Aids-296x300environment into the hot outdoors, especially if you go back and forth repeatedly. As for hearing aid batteries, they are likely to fail if exposed to high heat for more than a short amount of time.

Here are three “don’ts” and one “do” for protecting your hearing aids from excessive heat:

  • Don’t leave hearing aids lying out in direct sunlight
  • Don’t leave hearing aids locked in a glove box or sitting on the dashboard
  • Don’t wear hearing aids into tanning booths or under a sunlamp
  • Do store hearing aid batteries in a cool, dry place

Sunscreen: good for you, not so much your hearing aids. While it is important to protect your skin from the sun’s rays, you could inadvertently damage your hearing aids by doing so. Sunscreen lotions and sprays can clog vents and damage other components. So:

  • Do make sure you take care when applying sunscreen to your face, neck and ears
  • Do put on sunscreen before you put in your hearing aids

The difference between “waterproof” and “water-resistance” matters. You may have water-resistant hearing aids but understand this does not mean they can be submerged in the ocean or a pool. Water-resistant hearing aids help if you’re perspiring in the summer sun. However, if you jump into a lake wearing them, water will get inside through the microphone or other vents and they will be ruined.

Truly waterproof hearing aids are IP68 certified, meaning there will be no seepage or damage even after being completely submerged in liquid. Call your hearing care provider with questions about your specific hearing aids.

Keep in mind:

  • Don’t wear non-waterproof hearing aids if you’re going swimming, speed boating, or anywhere else where it is likely they will get drenched
  • Do make sure you know whether your hearing aids are waterproof or water-resistant
  • Do invest in a hearing aid dryer or dehumidifier to avoid ear infections and component damage in non-waterproof hearing aidscleaning_aid1

The skies are friendly for hearing aid wearers. Before you get on a plane, you should know that hearing aids sometimes set off metal detectors during security screenings. Don’t panic – you can let the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent know verbally or by using a downloadable TSA Notification Card that you wear hearing aids before setting off any alarms. The good news is hearing aids can be scanned without fear of damage.

Once you board your flight, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines exempt hearing aids from the “turn off all electronic devices” mandate. So:

  • Don’t turn them off during your flight, as you might miss important information shared by the pilot or flight attendants
  • Do feel free to wear hearing aids through body scanners or send them through X-ray in a carryon

Hitting the road with hearing aids. Whether you’re going on a day trip or cross-country adventure, save yourself time and worry by assembling a kit for your hearing aids well in advance. Just remember:

  • Do bring extra batteries or a charger
  • Do bring spare tubes and filters
  • Do include a dryer and cleaning equipment
  • Do include a card with the name/number of a local hearing aid provider, in case of emergency
  • Do pack a storage case

This summer enjoy listening to crickets chirping while you sit by a campfire, the laughter of kids playing at the beach, or the sound of that mai tai sliding up through your straw as you lounge poolside. Just follow these simple do’s and don’ts to make sure your hearing aids keep up with your summertime lifestyle.

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