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Hi-Tech hearing aids dramatically improve quality of life for users

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SonusBy Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

The first hearing aids came into use more than 100 years ago. They almost entirely covered the ear and were basically miniature loudspeakers that amplified all sounds in the vicinity of the wearer. Technology for the devices advanced gradually over the decades, but in more recent years it has jumped forward a great distance.
“The capabilities of modern day hearing aids are just incredible,” said Michael Wood, hearing aid specialist for Sonus Corporation. The company is based in Milan, Italy, but has 1,600 outlets in the United States. Its American corporate headquarters is in Minneapolis.
Wood noted that two of the most common complaints heard from users of the older hearing aids were that the devices made their ears feel plugged up and were very unattractive. He added that the recent addition of fashion-conscious Baby Boomers to the market has inspired technology that greatly reduces the size of the devices.
“Many patients do not want their hearing aids to be conspicuous,” he said. “For those patients, a surgically implanted device in the ear canal may be the answer.”
Such devices are hidden from view. But some people don’t mind wearing an external device as long as it looks good. Nowadays the fashion industry helps design hearing aids, and users have many color and shape options. “The new devices not only look much nicer than their older counterparts, but they are also much smaller, giving users the ability to insert and remove them easily, while never having to deal with that plugged-up feeling,” Wood said.
Some of the other advances address the noise. “If you go into a restaurant, for example, a major complaint from hearing aid wearers is amplification of the background noise,” Wood said. “The new hearing aids are able to overcome a lot of that through directionality. The way the microphone picks up, the circuits are able to identify noise versus speech and eliminate some of the noise.”
Wood added that one of the newest technological advances is “focused directionality,” which allows the wearer to use a hand-held device to point where they want to hear. He explained that a hearing-impaired person driving a car could push a button enabling them to hear the words spoken by a passenger in the rear seat. In a restaurant they can press a button to focus the microphones towards different people at the table.
Wood also described hearing aids that are able to connect directly to an iPod, computer or cell phone. “Many people who are borderline hearing aid users want the hearing aids so they can hook up easily to various devices while at the same time being able to hear clearly what people are saying in a boardroom meeting or other gathering,” he said.
People with hearing loss can go directly to Sonus. “I do specific tests that let me know if they need to proceed to an audiologist or an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist),” Wood said “I also have an audiologist that comes here once a month to take care of the patients that need audiometric testing.”
Wood uses a technique known as “pure tone audiometrics” to determine what level of sound amplification a person needs in their hearing aid. “We present sounds called pure tones at 250 through 8,000 Hertz (Hz) at various levels to determine a threshold of hearing,” he said. “I need to know what is the softest pure tone sound their ear can hear at a variety of frequencies. That’s called an audiogram.” He uses the data collected in that process to determine what hearing aid would best meet their needs.
“I do that along with taking their lifestyle into account; that is extremely important,” he said. “Somebody that lives by himself or herself and does not go out much and watches TV most of the time and just has one-on-one conversations does not need all of the advanced features.”
Wood also gives customers exercises designed to make them hear better. “A hearing aid by itself cannot restore normal hearing,” he noted. “But it can help with speech understanding and intelligibility.”
Hearing aid prices range from well under $1,000 to $8,000. Some insurance companies pay for at least part of the cost of hearing aids–but not all do.
Wood started with Sonus about nine years ago. His wife has been with the company for about 20 years. The couple acquired their current office in Long Beach from Knox Brooks about four years ago,” he said
“I highly recommend that people have a base audiogram done. We do that at no cost to the patient,” Wood said. “We’ll do a complete audiometric testing so that they know if there’s any changes in the future that need to be addressed.” He explained that the test does more than measure hearing. It can detect problems in the ear related to other health issues.
Wood makes presentations to hearing loss organizations all over Southern California. He also cleans and services all makes of hearing aids. He provides the service at retirement homes at no cost to the patient. “Helping people with their hearing is my mission,” he said.
The Sonus office closest to Signal Tribune readers is at 3505 Long Beach Boulevard, Suite IC. For more information, phone (562) 427-5889.

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Hi-Tech hearing aids dramatically improve quality of life for users