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Bluetooth-enabled Hearing Aids

Hearing aid manufacturers are constantly working to improve people's hearing in new and innovative ways.  Hearing aids by themselves can only take you so far, so they have begun to branch out into peripheral devices to take them to the next step.  Wireless connectivity has been used to expand hearing systems for many years, starting with remote controls and FM systems in classrooms.  Through the years they have expanded into TV streaming, remote microphones and streaming audio.

Bluetooth technology works similarly to other wireless signals like internet and cell phone signals.  Sounds are sent as invisible electronic signals that are picked up by the antenna in the receiving device.  With the addition of Bluetooth technology we are now able to connect directly to your cell phone or tablet, allowing direct, wireless streaming of audio including cell phone calls.  Bluetooth is available in most styles of hearing aid from In in-the-canal (ITC) up to receiver-in-the-ear (RIE) or behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids.  If your hearing aids are unable to connect directly to your phone, you may need a small bridging device to convert the signal from Bluetooth to another form of wireless signal (near field, 900MHz or 2.4GHz).

Benefits of Bluetooth hearing aids

Bluetooth technology allows the user to gain better sound quality when listening to their favourite electronic devices.  Essentially the hearing aid become wireless headphones, connected directly to your phone or tablet.  This allows you to not only save the cost and effort of changing your hearing aids for headphones when the need arises, but also customizes the sound coming in to fit your hearing loss.

These benefits can be seen during cell phone calls, which also benefit from the call streaming to both ears instead of just one as you would find traditionally.  The bluetooth hearing devices can also be used to stream music, podcasts or watch your favourite video content without bothering the people around you.  A bluetooth connection also allows you to skip the remote control and manage your hearing aids directly through an app on the phone you are probably carrying with you anyway. 

Bluetooth hearing aid considerations

When streaming audio to your hearing aids through a bluetooth connection, the microphones of the hearing aid are typically turned down or off, depending on the settings and your personal preferences.  This means the world around you is reduced to allow you to better hear and understand the content you are focused on.  This is important to keep in mind before streaming anything to your hearing aids.

There is some setup time required to pair the bluetooth enabled hearing aids to your phone or tablet, so ensure that you bring your device with you to your fitting appointment and allow extra time for the Hearing Instrument Specialist to setup your devices and show you how to use them.  If the hearing aids have a direct bluetooth connection, ensure you stay within range of your device (typically within the same room) or you could lose the connection.

The downside of a direct bluetooth connection can be a reduction in battery life on the hearing aid.  As there will be an almost constant stream of information going back and forth between the hearing aid and the cell phone, traditional batteries will need to be replaced more often.  The solution many manufacturers have developed is to go to a rechargeable battery, with the newest model lasting up to 30 hours on a single charge, and including a built in battery in the charger that allows you to charge your hearing aids 3 times before plugging the charger back in.

If you think bluetooth hearing aids are the right fit for you, talk to your Hearing Instrument Specialist about all of your options.  They will discuss your lifestyle and typical listening environments with you in order to recommend the best model for you.  In the case of most hearing losses, a suitable demo hearing aid can be set up so that you can experience the benefits in the office for yourself before making your decision.