We’ve all experienced stage fright; being in front of a crowd and being unsure about what’s coming your way: Will the audience respond to your personality, or ask tough questions? For Graeme, who loved taking part in improv shows at his local community theatre, it wasn’t what he was about to hear on that stage that made him nervous —it was the fact he was losing the ability to hear anything at all. To be able to improvise on stage, Graeme needed to hear cues and directions from his fellow performers and the audience–especially the subtle ones. When Graeme began to lose his hearing at a young age, he gradually lost the ability to respond appropriately and soon stopped performing altogether. Graeme’s hearing loss destroyed his ability to take part in an activity he loved, and sadly, Graeme isn’t alone.
Do I need a hearing aid? Hearing loss is common
As much as we like to think that we cheat time and aging, studies are pretty clear: As we age, we begin to lose our hearing. In the 50–59-year age group, 51% percent of Canadians have measurable hearing loss. By 60-69, that number increases to 77%. By the time we reach 70-79; the number increases to an astonishing 94%1. A majority of those people don’t realize they have hearing loss until they are tested. When hearing loss becomes apparent, and when it begins to affect your day-to-day life, it might be time to consult a professional audiologist to assess your options and perhaps be fitted with a hearing aid.
Hearing loss still comes with some stigma, despite the fact it’s extremely common and can be easily and painlessly improved. The reasons many of us experience hearing loss can vary from having worked in loud environments before proper protection was a thing, listening to too much loud music, or, like Graeme, simple genetics.
Not your granny’s hearing aids
Hearing aids have come a long way from the days of the wooden horn in granny’s ear, and even in the last few years, they’ve evolved from a giant, noticeable hunk of plastic on the ear to be completely invisible, resting within the ear canal itself. The steps to getting a hearing aid are similarly improved; it’s simple, painless, and an easy assessment provides all the information you need to make informed decisions. But often it takes a suggestion from a friend, family member or coworker before many of us will act.
Graeme made the decision to tackle his hearing loss head-on. We accompanied Graeme, a retired Occupational Therapy Assistant from Calgary, as he went through the process of getting help to hear better. This is his story.
Years ago, Graeme began wearing over-the-ear hearing aids. Even with those hearing aids, he still had difficulty hearing, and when speaking, Graeme would speak louder to hear himself (a very common characteristic among those with hearing loss).
New hearing technology is a game changer
Since new technology has become more widely available, TechGadgets has partnered with Signia to offer Graeme the opportunity to receive a hearing assessment and a new, more functional hearing aid. Signia has provided this service to Graeme at no cost as part of this post, but Signia has not told us what we have to say or what we can’t say.
Getting a hearing assessment
We accompanied Graeme to Hear Right Canada to see Michael Schaffler. Michael is BC-HIS Board Certified in Hearing Instrument Sciences, and a Registered Hearing Aid Practitioner.
Michael welcomed Graeme into his office and spent some time interviewing him about his history of hearing loss to get a better understanding of Graeme’s situation. He showed Graeme a hearing chart and explained how the ear receives various frequencies.
Michael then showed us how the various structures in the ear work together to create a signal to send to the brain and spent some time examining Graeme’s inner ears for any physical damage or blockages. In Graeme’s case, there was no sign of scarring or damage to the ear canal or eardrum, so it was time to move on to a frequency test.
Testing is simple and painless
For the first part of the test, Michael had Graeme put on some headphones that sat within the ear canal, and proceeded to play tones at various frequencies in one of Graeme’s ears. Graeme was given a small handheld buzzer that he would press when he heard the tones. Michael then repeated the same test in the other ear.
The next portion of the test involved a voice saying a single word, and Graeme was asked to repeat the word he heard. The words were spoken at various frequencies and chosen to test specific sounds. Michael noted the words Graeme had difficulty hearing.
The final portion involved placing a bone-conductive speaker on Graeme’s temple, and going through the sound frequencies again. Bone conductivity “ignores” the ear canal in a way, and allows the cochlea to pick up vibration frequencies directly from the jaw bone. This test can help assess if there is any damage or malfunction within the ear canal itself, and despite how it may sound, there’s no pain to this test either.
Personalized results fast
Once the test was complete, Michael walked Graeme through the results. One of Graeme’s ears has far more significant hearing loss than the other, so his new hearing aids will have to take that into account and will be set to respond to or increase the ranges that Graeme has trouble hearing specifically. This creates a custom hearing solution that’s more helpful than simply buying an amplification device online.
Quick assessment, custom solution in about an hour
The discussion and testing took less than an hour, and Michael was able to suggest a specific hearing aid model that he thought would work well with Graeme’s hearing loss, and–importantly–Graeme’s lifestyle.
About a week later, Graeme returned to the office for a fitting of his new hearing aids. The model that Michael recommended was Signia’s Pure Charge&Go AX model, which are about half the size Graeme expected them to be and discreet.
Choosing accessories for comfort and better hearing
Michael now worked with Graeme to choose the right tips for the hearing aids. These are similar to the ear tips found on earbud-style headphones, except Signia’s are more precise: For Graeme’s ear canals, Michael recommended a “tulip” shaped ear tip for his right ear and a “power” style ear tip for his right. This helps reduce outside noise and provide more comfort while wearing the hearing aids. He also showed Graeme how to properly clean the ear tips with a special cleaning tool that is included with the hearing aids.
The Pure Charge&Go AX is a “behind the ear” model, so there is a small unit that sits behind the ear, a connective tube, and the ear tip section. After putting them in, Graeme immediately noticed the difference in his hearing, but the process wasn’t complete yet.
Fine tuning hearing
Michael used a laptop and connected wirelessly to Graeme’s hearing aids using a program to fine-tune the devices specifically for Graeme’s needs. The idea is to start slow, first at a lower level of hearing improvement and incrementally move up to the optimal level for Michael.
The hearing aids can be set individually, allowing the hearing care professional to set things like the master gain and specific levels for things like loud sounds, soft sounds, and speech for each ear. There is also the ability to manage feedback, echoing, and wind noise.
“I am noticing a definite improvement in terms of clarity of voice in conversations,” Graeme shares. “I can go to a crowded coffee shop and have a conversation, and by using the phone app I can shift the directional microphones to adjust the width and area of the sound I wish to focus on.”
Custom audio presets with Signia app
Michael helped Graeme download Signia’s app to his smartphone, which allows Graeme to adjust his own hearing aids as needed. Graeme can now create a number of special custom pre-set modes for the Signia Pure Charge&Go AX, which include TruEar, Adaptive Directional, Binaural Direction, and Spatial Speech Focus, or create new programs for specific situations.
Regaining the ability to perform on stage
When Graeme is performing on stage, it’s important for him to hear in a 180-degree arc in front and to his sides since there would be less noise coming from behind. The microphones can be set to pick up that range of sound, and to focus on speech sounds. That program can be saved to the Pure Charge&Go AX and to the app. It’s given a name like “performing,” and then before the show, Graeme can choose that setting and the microphones will switch to that program. The same can be done for situations a user might find themself in regularly, like a loud restaurant, a noisy factory floor, or a quiet office.
Help with face-to-face conversations
If Graeme finds himself having trouble hearing someone while conversing, he can use a preset to narrow the listening range to focus on what’s immediately in front of him too.
Hearing aids that double as headphones
Graeme’s hearing aids are Bluetooth compatible with newer smartphones and can also be set up to act as headphones for music, smart TVs, and other audio devices. There’s no need to choose between hearing people or listening to music, making these great for travelers and commuters.
Adds Graeme, “You can take phone calls directly from your phone to your hearing aids via Bluetooth, plus no feedback when my landline phone is pressed against my hear, and no feedback when wearing headphones, which was so annoying with my previous hearing aids.”
Graeme’s hearing aids came with a charging device that is wall powered, which he places his hearing aids in each night, allowing them to fully charge overnight (and lowering the chance he’ll put them down somewhere and lose them). They also came with a traveling case, extra ear tips, and cleaning brushes.
What happened next? Signia Pure Charge&Go AX has allowed Graeme to return to his favourite activities
On the ride home from the fitting appointment, Graeme was already speaking at a much lower volume than he had on the way there, a result of now being able to hear his own voice better.
After a week, we checked in with Graeme to hear about his experience with the Pure Charge&Go AX. Graeme said it’s been a major improvement for him. He can now hear others clearly, make out voices in crowded environments, and much to his delight, return to the stage after over a decade on the sidelines. Graeme has even been noticing subtleties and tones he couldn’t hear before, like something as simple as the beep from his microwave.
If you’re experiencing hearing loss, or suspect it’s creeping in, the sooner you get help, the better off you’ll be. You can book a free hearing screening and receive a free hearing aid trial here.
* Statistics Canada https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2021077-eng.htm