January 4, 2014

Ask the Audiologist: What if I can’t hear the alarm?

By Rachel King, Au.D., CCC-A
Audiology Consultants, P.C.

People with normal hearing usually take being able to hear certain sounds for granted. For example, the sound of their baby or child crying in the next room, the telephone ringing, the doorbell, the alarm clock, the fire alarm, etc. We depend on hearing these sounds to keep us informed about what is happening in our environment. So, what if you can’t hear these simple sounds? How do you know someone is at the door? Or worse, how do you know the smoke alarm is sounding or if there is an intruder entering the home?

While hearing aids are a good way to start addressing concerns with hearing loss, the hearing aids are limited in what they can pick up and amplify. In addition, hearing aids are not worn at night. A concern for some people with hearing loss is hearing some of the sounds described earlier – a baby crying or an alarm. There is technology that is designed to help with these specific types of situations.

There are specialized alarm systems that use flashing lights and vibration to alert to different sounds in the environment. One example is a system that uses a vibrating device under your pillow at night. When an alarm sounds, such as an alarm clock, the device vibrates, shaking you awake. Some of these systems have accessories that will also trigger an alarm if a baby cries or the smoke alarm sounds. Some even have motion detection accessories to detect intruders entering the home. In addition to the vibrating pillow, these systems usually have bright flashing indicators to tell which alarm is sounding. These can sometimes be attached to a lamp or other lights in the house. If you can think of an alarm, there is most likely a device somewhere that will help convert it to light or vibration!

Another limit of hearing aids is the ability to communicate in challenging listening situations, such as places with a lot of background noise, or on the phone. There are also devices that can help with challenging listening situations and that work in tandem with hearing aids. There are specialized phones available for people with hearing loss that amplify the sounds coming through the phone. For people with profound hearing loss, captioned phones will allow the person to read what is being said over the phone. For help in hearing conversation in loud situations, there are systems that will bring a person’s voice directly to the listener’s ear. The most common of these systems is the FM system. A microphone, usually worn by one person or placed on a table with multiple people, transmits on an FM frequency to a receiver usually attached to a hearing aid. A similar system is now available using Blue Tooth technology. There are also systems available for help with hearing the TV. These systems allow for others in the room to still hear the TV while you can have your own headset and volume control.

There are a lot of options out there, and audiologists are ready and able to help. The specific devices that will work best for one person may not be the right solution for another. Listening needs vary based on levels of hearing loss and specific situations. Meet with an audiologist and be sure to discuss all your hearing concerns, so that your audiologist can work with you to help you find the best solution or set of solutions for you.