Hearing aids, necessity or a gadget? A story about conference calls and travel usage


Old age comes with loss of hearing for some of us. Nothing we can do about it, except perhaps deny it. I notice that a number of peeps I meet are experiencing hearing issues, I notice it, or they tell me. I notice this as I can see their behaviour in trying to understand the person talking to them. There are two ways of dealing with issues, one is deny it, pretending it isn’t true and feel bad about yourself. The other approach is, as we say, grab the bull by the horns. That’s what I did and that’s what I want to share with you. Hearing loss is frustrating but there are gadgets and ways to make it interesting – Toys for boys.

My hearing issue, a short recap

I noticed my hearing issues a number of years ago. I realized that something was wrong. I could, for the love of god, not make out what the people in the back of the room where saying. At first, there is denial, I’m tired, they talk softly, there is a lot of noise outside the room. After a while my wife told me that she had to shout to me before I would listen (not sure if that had to do with my hearing issue 😉 ). So I decided to take action, I went to a local doctor and was send to the hospital for hearing tests.

I had a number of tests as some doctors thought my hearing was not that bad. They tested with a bleep test on my ears, producing sound a different level and rate to see if I hear them all. I got too many of them right so my hearing was ok, was their reasoning. Finally after two years of persistent asking for retests (I’m persistent, very persistent) I got a doctor who understood how to test. You have two ways of testing, sound focused in your ears and on your hearing bones. once we did both the difference was stunning, on my hearing bones I got 100% of the bleeps.. on my ears a lot less. still enough to have “well enough” hearing. Finally I got my hearing aids – jeeeee, or? like who wants to have hearing aids before you’re really really old.

Can I see people having hearing issues?

What you will see that people with hearing issue do, is turn with their best ear towards you. They come and stand closer and try to stand so they aren’t bothered by surrounding noise. Wonder why I’m no fan of loud parties at conferences? I need to focus so hard to understand what people say, one side I’m pretty deaf and the other side has to cover for that. So I rather have a diner and a chat, much nicer and way easier to talk to each other. At loud parties all I can do is smile and pretend I understood you, in reality I’m solving a puzzle, half you sentence I heard the rest I try to guess to be able to answer.

Hearing aids

I never really looked at hearing aids and still feel I’m just a noob on that topic. I only saw old people with those massive hearing aids, that looked awful. I was not going to walk like that. Very pleasantly was I surprised to see the small size they are today.

There are basically two different types of hearing aids.

  • In ear
  • Over your ear
Beltone.com

As you can imagine, hiding your disability is a big factor in picking hearing aids. So in ear hearing aids are very interesting. I learned, however, that these are not as advanced as the over your ear ones. So I picked the over your ear ones from Beltone. They are just one brand, there are others out there.

If you would look closely you can see I wear them but most people don’t see them. In the picture above you see the wire that connects the microphone to the speaker that is located in my ear. The hearing aids ear pieces are custom made so they fit perfectly in my ear. If you wouldn’t have this, a lot of sound is lost. They have to close your ear completely to work the best. There is a little hole in the pieces in my ear otherwise I wouldn’t be able to walk (can’t explain how that feels, but if the hole is blocked – that happens – than it is very unpleasant feeling).

If you wonder if you feel hearing aids in your ear? Some days I do and some days I forget about them. Sometimes they itch but most of the time I really have no idea I have them in my ear.

Turn them into a gadget

So this is all nice and so but you could open any old people magazine and read about this. I wanted to write about the gadget they are and how I use them in my work (I work in IT for those who were wondering).

So my hearing aids are connected to my iPhone. From my phone I can select a preset program; All Around, restaurant, outside and so on. Depending on the preset if will filter out wind or people talking. I could also use my phone as a spying device and switch to live listen mode. Never used it as I would have to leave my phone somewhere when I walk away. I can change the volume from the hearing aids on my devices (they are synced) but also from the iPhone. My iPhone is like a remote control.

Phone calls

With my hearing aids connected to my iPhone you can see the benefits. when I make phone calls the sound is routed, I don’t need to keep my phone to my ears to listen. It helps me to keep focused in the call as the custom made pieces in my ear block nearly everything else around me. I’m still trying to find a solution for the talking part, that is not yet integrated with the hearing aids. It looks strange when I walk in a shop and have a phone call as I keep my phone only up to talk, not to listen and people don’t see any airPods in my ear so they are wondering.

Video’s, music, any other audio

Whatever I play on my iPhone, music, a video, anything else, it is all routed to my hearing aids. So I’m not disturbing others when I listen to music or watch a video. Can I decide what is routed where? I could but would need to change some settings. I have it set to anything to hearing aids. The option ranges from never route, to automatically or always. I chose always.

This goes further than just a iPhone, any device that you would have could be connected to your hearing aids. You could watch soccer, F1 anything on an iPad without others knowing it.

Conference calls

Any conference call, Skype For business, GotoMeeting or otherwise taken with my iPhone is routed to my hearing aids. Most conference calls, however, I take on my laptop, often it is a GTM and I’m watching a presentation or am presenting myself. My laptop is not connected to my hearing aids. So I could use normal speakers but that would make it harder as the microphone so to say is on the top of my ear (well behind my ear even). So I bought a little device (little in size not costs), to accommodate in this.

I bought a Belton MyPal Pro, it is the connector to any device with a audio output to my hearing aid. It is charged over USB and will last a while (not long enough though) I’ve got it paired with my hearing aids, so when I plug it in my laptop I have the sound of anything playing there on my ears. This is working very well with conference calls. The MyPal Pro connects to a 3.5mm audio exit on my laptop or any device.

The device also has a microphone. I could give the device to you and you could use a clip to connect it to your shirt. The microphone records what you say and I that will be routed to my devices. Of course this could be used in a meeting as well. moving it around the table as people talk or in the middle with a smaller group. Never used it like that but handy to have with me. I use it for meetings online to make sure I’m not guessing what was said just because my neighbour slams the door.

Speaking in public

So, what if you speak in public? Hearing the shouts from the audience is hard, I wonder why people do that, there are microphones in the room, use those. For me, the shouted questions are only heard 70% as the first few words are lost and I need to puzzle to get them back from the rest of the question.

There are microphones there and the previously discussed device could be connected to the microphone. I could hand them over to the audio guy and he could plug it in so all microphone asked questions are routed. Pretty cool, right? that would help a lot in getting the questions answered with the “sorry what did you say”.

Travelling

Travelling is interesting. Travelling is not as easy as one would expect. The world of travel is not designed for people with hearing issues. Entertainment systems in planes are not equipped with bluetooth so connecting my hearing devices is not possible. I could use my MyPal Pro of course (never did that I just realise) but it would require constant USB power as flights are too long.

What I use most of the time is a running headset, a headset that is placed on your hearing bones. This works ok except for the fact that the back is located where your head rests on the seat. Another issue with these are that they need charging as well. For headset they are the only ones that work as the supplied earplugs are a no go because of the pieces in my ear already. running headset are interesting also for people with good hearing as they keep your ears free so you hear cars coming when you walk/run.

I truly wish that new entertainment systems will have a Bluetooth connection option, we disabled people are a bit forgotten. There are systems out there that support that, just haven’t found the airliner yet that is using them.

Noise cancelling

Last thing I came across is noise cancelling. when travelling one needs to sleep and sleep is hard with nagging kids around you or people walking up and down the toilet for 10 hours. I can switch of my hearing aids but that won’t kill sound completely, a lot but not enough. I tried those Sony noise cancelling headset over my hearing aids but my devices are singing when I wear them. So my only option there would be to switch off my devices, wear a noice cancelling set and sleep like that. Soon I need an extra bag for all tools and devices to travel 😉

I hope this blog on hearing devices and the tools that make them a gadget was interesting enough. If you have hearing issues, don’t put them away, deal with them. The devices and tools are interesting for us geeks to work with.


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