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Utilizing Assistive Listening Devices

Posted By Naama Tsach, PhD, Thursday, May 11, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, May 10, 2017


The improved access to sound provided by assistive listening devices is generally accepted for those who use hearing aids. This same benefit extends to cochlear implant users of all ages. Read Erin Schafer’s guest blog post and learn about how these technologies can be used in a variety of settings.

Erin Schafer Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the University of North Texas in the Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. She teaches courses and publishes peer-reviewed research on the assessment and (re)habilitation of adults and children with hearing loss or auditory disorders. She is a Board Member of the Auditory Implant Initiative, serves as President of the Educational Audiology Association, and is Editor of the Journal of Educational, Pediatric, and (Re)Habilitative Audiology.

Thank you Erin, for this important blog post, which is an enriching addition to our blog resource library.

Naama Tsach PhD

Assistive Listening Devices for Cochlear Implants

The selection of assistive devices for users of cochlear implants has grown tremendously over the past 10 years with today’s devices offering more affordable, simpler, and easy-to-use wireless products to improve hearing in noisy situations, over the phone and to the television. Although I cannot speak to my personal experiences with these devices, I am able to share with you the findings of our recent published research as well as some practical uses of each device.

Improving Hearing in Noisy Situations

For many years, individuals with cochlear implants have been able to connect their sound processors to frequency modulation (FM) systems, which wirelessly transmit a signal from primary talker to the listener with the implant. These systems were helpful for improving speech recognition and listening ease, particularly in noisy environments. However, many FM systems are expensive, sometimes cumbersome to connect to cochlear implants, and are susceptible to interference from the environment. Many of today’s wireless accessories, however, use digital transmission, which is less susceptible to interference and, in many cases, is much more affordable. Examples of these accessories include the Wireless Mini Microphone and Mini Microphone 2+ that can be used with Cochlear processors (in partnership with GN Resound) and the Phonak ComPilot and RemoteMic accessories that can be used with Advanced Bionics processors. Although MED-EL is not offering wireless accessories, MED-EL processors may still be used with existing FM and digital transmissions systems available from Oticon, Phonak, and many other manufacturers.

According to our research, the Mini Mic is was able to substantially improve average speech recognition in quiet by 10% and in noise by up to 65% in 16 adults with Advanced Bionics implants when compared to performance with the cochlear implant alone. A more recent study that is in progress included two groups—a group of listeners with bilateral cochlear implants and a group of listeners with a cochlear implant on one ear and a hearing aid on the other. This study showed that, in both groups, use of the Mini Microphone 2+ was able to improve speech recognition substantially, and the benefit achieved with the Mini Microphone 2+ was similar to the benefit obtained with a higher-end remote-microphone system. Results of these studies provide evidence that the new wireless devices are beneficial. A 65% increase is a huge benefit!

Although use of these wireless accessories requires a cochlear implant user to adjust processor settings and to ask the primary talker to use a small microphone, the benefits are notable, particularly in noisy situations. This accessory will be helpful in the car, when the primary talker is at a distance (e.g., church or lecture), or at large family gatherings, parties, or other social situations.

Improving Hearing Over the Phone

Hearing over a mobile telephone may also be improved with new wireless accessories available from Cochlear (Phone Clip) and Advanced Bionics (Phonak EasyCall Accessory). Both of these wireless accessories connect to mobile phones via Bluetooth and allow users to communicate hands-free through the small device that is clipped near the user’s lapel. The benefit of using the Phone Clip was documented in a study including 16 adults with Cochlear sound processors where speech recognition was improved by 18% in quiet and 29% in noise when compared to performance in a test condition where the phone was held close to the processor microphone.

All listeners, including those with normal hearing, experience difficulty hearing over the phone when in noisy listening situations, such as parties, grocery stores, and restaurants, and sometimes these calls are really important! A trial period with a wireless phone device may offer a solution to some difficulties over the phone and result in more fluid conversations. Regardless of the manufacturer, all CI processors have a telecoil setting that can be coupled to telecoil-enabled mobile devices and landline phones to improve hearing and ease conversational difficulties.

Improving Television Listening

Signals from the television may be streamed directly to the ears of individuals with cochlear implants via new wireless accessories, such as the ComPilot and TVLink II for Advanced Bionics processors and the TV Streamer for Cochlear sound processors. These devices are fairly simple to set up and can provide substantial benefit. For example, we conducted a study with 16 adults with Cochlear sound processors who completed a test of auditory and visual recognition through a television. Their performance improved by 8% in quiet and 23% with noise in the background when compared performance with their cochlear implant alone.

The potential benefits of a streaming device for the television are obvious and may serve as a mediator for your household, especially if you like to turn up the volume quite a bit. Some individuals with implants have difficulty hearing the television, particularly when other sounds are present including the washing machine, dishwasher, water running, and children playing (or yelling in my house). A wireless device allows the user to hear the television at a normal and comfortable volume, regardless of the noise in the background.

I hope you will consider giving some of these new wireless devices a listen because many adults with cochlear implants have experienced great benefit from these devices. Happy Listening!

Erin C. Schafer, Ph.D.
University of North Texas

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The mission of the American Cochlear Implant (ACI) Alliance is to advance access to the gift of hearing provided by cochlear implantation through research, advocacy and awareness.