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The Latest & Greatest in Bluetooth Hearing Aid Technology

When people think of hearing aids, they might think more of old ear trumpets than high-quality, advanced devices, but the integration of Bluetooth with hearing aid technology is changing that. Hearing aid manufacturers are lately using Bluetooth as a tool to improve their products, and each manufacturer is taking a different approach. You can take a look at the very latest information on Bluetooth hearing aids here. 

I first became aware of Bluetooth technology and hearing aids in 2009, when I purchased a set of Oticon Epoq aids through my audiologist. The Bluetooth technology used by Oticon allows my hearing aids to communicate to each other, allows me to listen to music without headphones, and make calls without holding the phone up to my ear.

What is Bluetooth?
Bluetooth has actually been around since 1994, created by Ericsson, a telecommunications company. Bluetooth can seem mysterious, but it’s actually pretty simple – it uses radio frequencies to allow devices to communicate without cables or wiring. Bluetooth essentially creates a tiny wireless network between multiple devices, for a multitude of purposes.

What Good is Bluetooth for Hearing Aids?
Bluetooth can be used to allow a wearer’s hearing aids to communicate with hands-free devices, like music players and cellphones. It can also be used to allow two hearing aids to communicate to one another, which enhances a user’s hearing experience.

Bluetooth hearing aids often come with an additional device, specific to each manufacturer. The cost of this device could be bundled into the price of the aids or could come at an additional cost. My audiologist threw in my Streamer device for free with my purchase of Oticon Epoq hearing aids in 2009, so look around for good deals.

What Are Some Examples?
The hearing aid manufacturer Oticon uses Bluetooth in their Streamer device. The Streamer is paired with both the hearing aids and the devices a person wants to use. It acts as a go-between, and is worn around the neck. This is the device I use. In my experience, the Streamer is pretty reliable, but getting the Streamer paired with the hearing aids can be a little tricky; it needs to be done by an audiologist.

Oticon also sells a line of products under their ConnectLine brand, which includes an adapter for televisions, and landline phones. For cellphones and other devices that have Bluetooth built in, all you need to do is pair the Streamer with the device, and it will automatically send sounds directly to your aids.

I have not tried the following technologies, but they are definitely worth researching, as part of the overall process when looking into new hearing aid technology:

Phonak uses a device called the iCom, which seems to operate similarly to the Streamer, and is similarly worn around the neck; Seimens uses Tek Connect, which is also similar. Starkey customers who wear behind-the-ear hearing aid can use the ELI, or Ear-Level Instrument, which attaches to the hearing aid itself. And ReSound’s Alera hearing aids can use their Unite accessories. What’s nice about the Unite accessories in particular is that they require only the accessory and the hearing aids, no extra wires or cables.

Other companies seem to be getting into the Bluetooth accessory ballgame when it comes to hearing aids. For example, Nokia has introduced their Wireless Loopset, which allows users with T-coil equipped hearing aids to have a connection to their cellphones. The loopset allows for more control than many of the accessories from hearing aid manufacturers – it can not only control volume, but also volume range and frequency.

What Should I Think About Before I Buy?
First, talk things over with your audiologist. By working together, both of you can determine whether or not new hearing aids would be a good fit for you.

Consider your lifestyle and what you would use a Bluetooth hearing aid for. You’ll need to keep track of not only the aids, but also another accessory, and remember to keep it charged. You may need to upgrade your gadgets (cellphone and music player) for Bluetooth compatibility, and you may need to make an extra visit or two back to the audiologist to ensure everything gets properly paired and set up correctly.

In my opinion, Bluetooth hearing aids represent a solid step forward in hearing aid technology – as long as you do your research.

This is a guest article by Megan Sparks.

Megan Sparks is a 24-year-old native resident of Arizona, who has been blogging about deafness, tech, and assorted geekery at Hearing Sparks since she upgraded her hearing aids in 2009.