Pioneer Hearing Aid Center News

December 14, 2018


Using hearing aids to your advantage during the holidays

The holiday season is so short, sometimes it seems to fly by faster than Santa’s sleigh. Since this time of year is traditionally spent with friends and loved ones, why miss a minute of the sounds you love most? When you take full advantage of your hearing aid capabilities, you can enjoy the festivities to their fullest.

Before the holidays

As a hearing aid user, you likely schedule regular check-ups with your hearing healthcare professional. That’s especially important this time of year to make sure your hearing devices are clean and working properly. At your next appointment be sure to ask about:

close-up on holiday table setting
The holidays are a time to catch up with
friends and family. Make sure your hearing
aids enhance your holiday spirit!
  • Hearing aid features: Between the holiday music, laughter and clatter of dishes, participating in the conversation can be challenging. Can your hearing aids minimize background noise so you can focus on what the person in front of you is saying? If so, learn how to adjust the settings to maximize this feature — and be sure you know how to maximize other holiday listening environments, too.
  • The proper accessories: Whether you’re an avid skier or just a seasonal sledder, you’ll want to have the right gear to protect your hearing aids from wind and moisture. Other accessories, such as Bluetooth streaming devices and assistive listening devices, can maximize your benefits. If your hearing center doesn’t sell what you need, ask the staff if they know where you can find it.  

You can also prepare for holiday fun by wearing your hearing aids daily around the house. Since hearing is a brain function, the more often you wear your hearing devices, the more practice your brain has translating the signals it’s receiving from the hair cells in the inner ear. This is especially important if you’ve just begun wearing hearing devices after a long period of untreated hearing loss, as there may be some sounds your brain has forgotten how to translate.

Here are some other tips for getting ready before the holidays:

  • Stock up on batteries. Make sure you have an ample supply of fresh batteries within reach so you don’t have to make an emergency run to the drugstore.
  • Child-proof your home. Especially if little ones will be visiting, designate a safe place to store your hearing aids and their accessories, including batteries. Little minds are inquisitive!

At holiday parties

If your hearing loss prevents you from hearing well when you’re in a noisy situation, be prepared when you attend the office party or a friend’s holiday party.

  • Control your environment. Let your hostess know you have hearing loss and ask to be seated the furthest away from the television or kitchen so you can minimize background noise.
  • Take advantage of off-peak hours. If your plans call for dining at a restaurant or two this month, consider eating earlier to avoid peak dining hours between 6 and 8 p.m. Or plan to dine on a weeknight, when restaurants are much less busy.
  • Use the buddy system. Attend festivities with someone you trust who knows about your hearing loss. They can help you navigate noisy situations and boisterous conversations.

During holiday performances

Whether the production is Broadway quality or performed by your favorite little Scrooge, be prepared to hear your best.

  • Look for looping. Check the venue’s website to see if they have a looped system or other assistive listening device options. If they do, note how to request the service and arrive in plenty of time to acquire one as some facilities have a limited supply.
  • Reserve seating. If the production is being presented in a local gymnasium or another facility without assistive listening services, call well in advance to ask if you can reserve seating near the front of the audience.
  • Bring batteries. Carry a fresh set of batteries with you just in case. Much like carrying an umbrella while the sun is shining, it never hurts to be prepared.

After the holidays

Take a moment to evaluate. Did your hearing devices meet your expectations? If not, make a list of what needs adjusting so you can discuss it at your next regularly scheduled appointment. Ask your hearing healthcare professional to make a note of these adjustments in your file so you’ll be even more prepared to greet the next holiday season.

If you’re not hearing as well as you used to, make an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional to find out why. Let healthy hearing be the gift you give yourself this holiday season!

December 07, 2018


Healthy Hearing’s quiet toy list 2018

The holiday season is a wonderful mix of sights and sounds, family and gift-giving, celebration and thanksgiving. It seems the season gets bigger, noisier and more hectic with each passing year. In fact, in addition to the increased volume of traffic, crowd noise and music during the holidays, some of the toys on the market today emit sounds so loud they can permanently damage hearing.

So as we scurry around trying to find the right present for each loved one, maybe it’s time to get back to basics. Instead of opting for things that whistle, ding, toot and entertain to wrap for our loved ones, think about giving one of these items from the Healthy Hearing Quiet Toy List. Each one generates noise levels well beneath the accepted healthy hearing levels of 70 decibels while providing a good measure of old-fashioned fun.

Gifts as quiet as normal breathing — 10 decibels

Grandmother reading with granddaughter
Books are at the top of Healthy Hearing's
quiet toy list every year!

Books

Reading stimulates your mind, reduces stress, increases knowledge and vocabulary, improves memory and writing skills, and strengthens analytical thinking, focus and concentration. Since there are so many good books on the market to choose from, Healthy Hearing staff recommend these childhood favorites:

Paul Dybala, Ph.D. / president

"The Wild Robot," by Peter Brown

As the father of two young boys, Paul recommends "The Wild Robot," a story with a shipwreck, deserted island and a resourceful robot. Paul says the robot’s tenacity and propensity to do things the right way instead of the easy way is a “good metaphor for life, let alone being a Dad. It’s a process,” he said. “You don’t always know what to do next, you just have to figure it out, make some mistakes and learn from that. Taking the easy way out is tempting, but it rarely works out in the long run.”

If your kids like that book, you may want to read the sequel, too: "The Wild Robot Escapes." Both are best-sellers on Amazon among the robot-loving crowd.

Susanne Jones, B.A., BC-HIS / customer support manager

"The Tracker," by Tom Brown Jr.

Susanne is fond of being outdoors and her book selection reflects this. "The Tracker," a book about the author’s experiences as an outdoorsman in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens forest, was one Susanne’s mother read aloud to her and her siblings when they were children. “To this day, I still think about the things I learned from this book when I am outdoors,” she said. “I feel it’s incredibly important, in this era of advanced technology and “screen-time” taking the place of actual playtime, that kids learn to understand and enjoy the great outdoors all around us. Appreciating nature helps us stay grounded.”

Mandy Mroz, Au.D. / director

"Mandy," by Julie Andrews Edwards

Mandy admits she chose this book as a child because the title bears her name, but says she later fell in love with it because it tells the story of how an orphan eventually finds her forever family. “It’s a great story of adoption,” she said. “The main character is strong and independent and there’s some gardening thrown in! What’s not to love?”

Bill Talkington, Ph.D. / junior developer

"Goosebumps," by R.L. Stine

Bill said he is really a non-fiction reader at heart, but fondly remembers reading the entire series of Goosebumps as an elementary school student when they first emerged. Bill’s suggestion to parents? Get your child a library card, take regular trips together and let your child decide which genre appeals most to them. “As a child,” he said, “I would regularly bring home a small stack of books from the public library, covering all sorts of topics.”

Natalina Raso, CDA / coordinator for Hearing Directory (Canada)

"The Berenstain Bears" books, by Mike Berenstain

Natalina, who said she’s been an avid reader all her life and never “shied away from a Scholastics catalog as a child,” fondly remembers reading this book series about an adorable family of bears first published in 1962 and the life lessons they teach. I absolutely adored these books,” she said. “The illustrations were colorful and the characters were relatable. It was very family-friendly and dealt with real-life day-to-day obstacles or learning curves that most children and families experience together. "The Berenstain Bears – In the Dark" helped me through my stages of being afraid of the dark and going to sleep as a child.”

Meditation

Schools across the country have begun teaching meditation as a way to improve mindfulness and increase respect for others. The movement is due to a series of studies which suggest mindfulness improves attention and behavior among children and youth. The good news? Meditation is something the whole family can practice together — and it’s free! Try these three kid-friendly meditations from the Chopra Center to get you started.

Gifts as quiet as normal conversation — 50 decibels

Building sets

two children playing with block toys
Construction toys are quiet and they provide
a lot of benefit to growing children.

There are so many benefits to playing with construction toys, it almost warrants an article all by itself. Playing with blocks helps children learn shapes and colors, develop manual dexterity, patience, focus and encourages thinking and reasoning.

Beyond blocks, classic favorites include Lego, Tinkertoy, Lincoln Logs and K’nex. The best part of these gifts is their interactive nature. Many of these sets come with idea books which contain instructions for building basic items. They’re perfect for playing alone or collaborating with others. By the way, play dough counts as construction play too, so buy a couple of art smocks and let the squishing begin.

Handwork hobbies

Try string games. What benefit would anyone derive from playing with a piece of string? How about manual dexterity, concentration, memory, teamwork, patience, persistence and the fun of creating interesting patterns and designs using only your hands? Some patterns are simple, others can be intricate and complex. Some are created using two hands, while others involve more than one person. Most will be multi-generational topics of conversation the young can have with the young at heart.  

The same can be said for hobbies such as knitting, crocheting and embroidery.  Experts say crafts like these not only improve motor skills, they also stimulate the mind, reduce stress and provide a creative outlet. Put together a kit of tools for your favorite hobby or buy a “how-to” kit and learn together. You’ll both benefit from learning a new skill as well as spending quality time with each other.

Gifts as quiet as the sound of laughter — 60-65 decibels

Board games

If you grew up playing Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, here’s some good news — these two board games are still popular among the toddler and preschool set. Besides the obvious benefits of playing board games together — fun family time, cognitive development and stress reduction — the laughter these games produce is like music for your ears. If you’re looking for a few new games to add to those old classics in the closet, may we suggest these fun options?

  • Bananagrams — ages 7 and up. Use letter tiles to build a crossword grid creating as many words as possible in a race against others. Fun, portable and educational.
  • Lift It! — ages 8 and up. Strap a plastic crane to your head and compete with family members to build structures before time runs out. Ridiculous? That's what makes it so much fun!
  • The Cat Game — You don’t have to be a cat lover to enjoy this ridiculously funny drawing game which involves a dry erase board, markers and a set of magnetic cats in hilarious poses. Suitable for teens and adults.

Card games

Card games have been around since the 15th century, but don’t let their age deter you. A deck of cards can provide hours of entertainment in the right hands, not to mention a host of physical and social benefits for adults and children. Chances are, you have a few of your own favorites. Here are a few of ours.

  • Dr. Suess Cat in the Hat — ages 3 and up; promotes confidence, early reading skills, creativity and social skills
  • Tabletopics family — ages 6 and up; promotes communication, conversational skills and thinking skills
  • Uno — ages 7 and up; promotes strategy, numbers and colors

If you prefer old school games like Rummy and Go Fish, consider taking your card playing to an “astronomical” level by using Night Sky Playing Cards.

And now, a word about hearing loss

Today’s kids are exposed to more environmental noise than their parents or grandparents, due in part to the electronic gadgets they play with and elevated levels of industrial and recreational noise. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), more than 16 percent of teens ages 12 to 19 say they have some hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud noise.

What’s the good news? Noise-induced hearing loss is easily preventable. Some of the gifts on Healthy Hearing’s Quiet Toy List may sound familiar while others are new versions of old favorites, and they benefit more than just your hearing health. Our increasingly noisy world is ours alone to quiet, beginning with the gifts we give our families during the holidays.

If you suspect any member of your family, young or old, has hearing loss, seek the advice of a qualified hearing healthcare professional near you.

November 09, 2018


The ABCs of how to read an audiogram

Admitting you need to have your hearing checked by a professional is a big step. Whether you came to that realization on your own or whether your family pleaded, cajoled and begged, the result is the same: you are finally going to meet with a hearing care professional for a hearing test. The appointment has been on the calendar for a couple of weeks, and now the big day is finally here. With apprehension you get in the car to drive to the appointment, unsure of what to expect. 

audiogram, otoscope and headphones for hearing testing
Learning to read your audiogram can help
you better understand your hearing ability. 

The good news is the testing isn’t painful and it is over relatively quickly. After you're done with the test, the hearing care professional will show you an audiogram. An audiogram is a graph or chart that displays the results of your hearing test. Initially, it might look like a bunch of indecipherable lines and symbols. But once you learn how to read and interpret your audiogram, you will better understand your hearing loss. Even more important, your hearing care professional will use the results to help determine the best type of hearing aid for you.

An audiogram measures hearing ability

The goal of audiometric testing is to measure your hearing ability across a range of frequencies in each ear independently. This testing produces a chart called an audiogram. The audiogram plots your hearing thresholds across various frequencies, or pitches, in a quiet listening environment. A hearing threshold is defined as the softest sound you are able to detect about 50 percent of the time. So don't be surprised if you feel like you "missed" some of the beeps. You did!

An important thing to remember is that the audiogram is quantitative, not qualitative. It uses a specific numerical system to measure residual hearing ability in quiet; it doesn't subjectively describe the quality of your hearing ability.

How to read an audiogram

Looking at the audiogram graph, you will see two axes. The horizontal axis represents frequency (pitch) from lowest to highest. The lowest frequency tested is usually 250 Hertz (Hz), and the highest is usually 8000 Hz. You can think of the frequency axis like the keys on a piano where the sounds become higher pitched as you progress from left to right. Most speech falls into the 250 to 6000 Hz range, with the vowel sounds among the lowest frequencies and the consonants such as S, F, SH, CH, H, TH, T and K sounds among the highest frequencies.

The vertical axis of the audiogram represents the intensity (loudness) of sound in decibels (dB), with the lowest levels at the top of the graph. Although the top left of the chart is labeled -10 dB or 0 dB, that does not mean the absence of sound. Zero decibels actually represents the softest level of sound that the average person with normal hearing will hear, for any given frequency. (It's actually a normative curve that has been straightened out!) An adult is classified as having normal hearing ability if their responses are between 0 and 25 dB across the frequency range. A child is considered to have hearing ability within normal limits if their responses are between 0 to 15 dB across the frequency range. 

Audiogram depicting red and blue lines straight across
Audiogram example: the symbols and colors on an audiogram 
show responses for both ears across all frequencies.

What do the symbols on an audiogram mean?

There are several different symbols used to indicate thresholds on an audiogram, depending on the specific testing conditions. Testing with headphones is called air conduction testing because the sound must travel through the air of the ear canal to reach the inner ear. The air conduction results for the right ear are marked with a red “O," and the results for the left ear are marked with a blue “X." Bone conduction testing, in which a device is placed behind the ear in order to transmit sound through the vibration of the mastoid bone, is marked with a “[“ or a “<” symbol. 

The important thing to understand is that the responses from the left ear are represented in blue, and those from the right ear are represented in red. Each symbol on the chart represents your threshold for a given frequency. In the example above, the individual's threshold for 2000 Hz was 50 dB in each ear. Once all of the thresholds are measured and plotted on the graph, they are connected to form easy-to-read lines for the left and right ears.

If the two lines are essentially overlapping, your hearing loss is considered symmetrical, or the same in both ears. If the lines are not overlapping your hearing loss is considered asymmetrical, meaning your ears have differing degrees of hearing loss.

What is normal hearing on an audiogram?

Looking at the above audiogram, normal hearing ability is represented in the blue shaded area above the 25-dB line that crosses the graph from left to right. If your threshold symbols fall in the blue-shaded area, your hearing ability is considered within normal limits. Any symbols below that shaded area, however, indicate hearing loss at those frequencies. 

Your hearing care professional will classify the severity of your hearing loss, or degree of hearing loss, by where the symbols fall on the graph. Hearing loss is often classified as mild, moderate, moderate-to-severe, severe or profound. They will also describe the pattern of your loss, generally as flat, sloping or rising.

The space between the normal hearing area and your threshold symbols represents all of the sounds you’re missing because of your hearing loss. The bigger the space, the more sounds you’re not hearing. For most people with hearing loss, hearing aids can be a solution to bridge that gap and give you back the sounds you’re missing.

Keep a copy of your audiogram and other test results

After your visit to the hearing center, they should provide you with a report of your visit. If not included with the report, request a copy of your audiometric test results. Not only will these results serve as a prescription for you, but it will serve as a baseline for you and your hearing care professional to monitor any changes in your hearing down the road.

If you have been struggling to hear or have noticed a feeling of fullness in your ears, make an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional today. Then take it a step further and learn how to read your audiogram. This will enable you to be an active participant in your hearing health care and to make informed decisions about your treatment options.

October 26, 2018


Using headphones with hearing aids

Thanks to recent advancements in hearing device technology, millions of people with hearing loss are able to hear their favorite sounds and enjoy conversing with their favorite people. One perk this new technology affords users is compatibility with other personal electronic devices, such as smartphones and televisions. Sometimes, as in the case of headphones and earbuds, finding the right listening combination can be a bit tricky.

Which headphones will work with my hearing aids?

Man listening to headphones with eyes closed
ITE hearing aids can often be worn with 
on-ear or over-the-ear headphones.

With all of the different headphones on the market today, which ones work best with hearing aids? That all depends upon what type of hearing aids you wear. Here are a few things to consider before you discuss the subject with your hearing healthcare professional.

If you wear in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids

Finding good fitting headphones when you wear devices which fit inside the ear canal is a lot less problematic than it is with other models.  

  • Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids are the tiniest hearing aids on the market. Their ability to fit inside the ear canal make them more discreet than other models. These devices are usually prescribed for those with mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids sit in the lower portion of the outer ear bowl, which makes them comfortable and easy to use. Because they are slightly larger than IIC and CIC hearing aids, they have a longer battery life and able to address a wider range of hearing losses.
  • Low profile hearing aids sit inside the ear, although range in size from half shell designs to those which fill almost the entire ear bowl. Because they are larger and easier to handle, they may be more desirable for those with dexterity issues.

Since all components of the above devices fit completely inside the ear canal, they are usually compatible with on-ear or over-the-ear headphones. Those who wear IIC hearing aids may even be able to use earbuds.

If you wear behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids

Those who wear BTE or receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) devices may find over-the-ear headphones the best option.

  • BTE hearing aids range in size from mini BTEs with ultra-thin tubing to those which work with earmolds to address severe to profound hearing losses.
  • RIC and receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) hearing aids have the speaker built into the ear tip instead of the main body of the hearing aid.

When using headphones with these hearing devices, choose a model which fits completely over the hearing aids’ microphone, which is located outside the ear canal and behind the ear. If it doesn’t fit completely over, the hearing aid will pick up external sound instead of what is coming from the headphone. You may have to try a few models to find the right fit. The key is to make sure the headphone speakers are located far enough away from the hearing aid microphones to prevent problems with audio feedback.

Ask your hearing healthcare professional

If you’re still having trouble finding headphones which work with your hearing aids, make sure you’re using the hearing aid program for the listening environment. A program which emphasizes speech may not be the best one to use when you’re listening to music or audiobooks. If you’re in doubt about which program to use -- or how to switch between programs on your hearing devices -- ask your hearing healthcare professional for assistance.

To prevent additional noise-induced hearing loss, make sure you follow the 80-90 rule when using headphones or earbuds, regardless of whether or not you wear hearing aids: listen at 80 percent or less of your device’s volume for no more than 90 minutes a day. As always, if you find you’re not hearing your best, schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation.

October 12, 2018


The connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline

Does hearing loss cause cognitive impairment and dementia? And can you prevent or delay cognitive loss with hearing aids? These are tough questions to answer.

couple playing with block game
The link between hearing loss and cognitive
decline is still a puzzle for researchers.

Multiple studies have tackled the issue. One meta-analysis from February analyzed 11 studies dating back to 2016 to find that older people with moderate to severe hearing impairment had a 29 to 57 percent greater risk of cognitive impairment than those with normal hearing. It did not find that wearing hearing aids reduced the risk.

A 2016 study analyzing health insurance claims of 154,783 seniors concluded that hearing impairment increases the risk of dementia and that to some extent this happens regardless of medical treatment. Though the authors said hearing aids might delay or prevent dementia, they didn’t have details on whether patients were prescribed hearing aids or were using them regularly.

However, a 2017 article in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience cited two studies that found people wearing hearing aids improved their performance on cognitive tests. The article said hearing aids, when prescribed at the beginning of age-related hearing loss, can postpone cognitive side effects.   

Dementia causes damage before symptoms emerge

There aren’t definitive answers because the field is still new, according to Dr. Jennifer Deal of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. She noted that studies of dementia have traditionally focused on pathology or vascular disease and that Dr. Frank Lin, the director of the Cochlear Center, has been doing much of the work of bringing hearing into the discussion.

By the time someone shows symptoms of dementia, “the damage has already been done to the brain. We can’t actually reverse that, so the idea is we want to try to prevent it from happening in the first place.” As the population ages, this will increasingly be a public health concern, she said.

Deal said hearing is one of the only later-life risk factors that could potentially delay cognitive decline. A 2017 article by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care estimated up to 35 percent of dementia could be prevented due to modifiable risk factors, and the biggest of those is hearing loss, at 9 percent. The potential proportion of dementia that could be prevented if hearing loss was prevented or treated is about 90 percent. “And the reason why it’s so high is that so many people have it,” Deal said, adding that two-thirds of people over age 70 have clinically meaningful hearing loss.

Hearing loss impacts much of the brain

Why is hearing loss associated with dementia? Deal said one possibility is that something else, such as vascular disease, causes both conditions. 

Another is the strain on people with hearing loss in trying to interpret sounds. That can impact memory, Deal said. “We call that effortful listening, and that’s why people with hearing loss say it sounds like you’re mumbling.”

MRI studies have shown that people with hearing loss use parts of the brain beyond the auditory cortex to decode sounds, so hearing loss affects much of the brain. Deal said Lin has published a study showing a faster decline in brain volume in people with hearing loss than in people with normal hearing.

Social isolation is also likely a factor because it’s associated with health issues, Deal said. “If we have difficulty with hearing in noisy environments, maybe we don’t go out to dinner as often, or attend church functions or other kinds of social engagements, and in that way can become more isolated.”

But these are hypotheses, and researchers don’t know whether medical care has an impact. There are many factors in who uses a hearing aid, including its affordability, Deal said. “It’s hard for us to make a full judgment in terms of whether or not there’s actually a difference being made by the hearing aid, or whether we’re just comparing two groups we really shouldn’t be comparing.”

Don't wait, get help

The Cochlear Center is trying to get answers. They’re recruiting 850 people around the country, older adults with mild to moderate hearing loss and normal cognitive skills who don’t use hearing aids. Some participants will receive hearing aids and some won’t, and the researchers will track their cognitive levels. Deal said they’ll have the results in 2022. “This is the type of study, with the randomization component, that really should help give us a definitive answer about whether or not hearing aid treatment can help delay cognitive decline.”

What should people do in the meantime? “If you have any concerns about your hearing or any other kind of health issues, I always encourage people to talk to their doctors,” Deal said. It may not be clear whether hearing aid use impacts cognition, “but we do know that hearing loss can be impactful in other ways.”

September 07, 2018


Pulses of light restored hearing in gerbils

Using light to target hearing issues may sound farfetched, but it’s not. Scientists say the new field of optogenetics could create cochlear implants that give people more natural hearing abilities.

Red laser beam
A new field called "optogenetics" 
studies how light-sensitive proteins
can be used to improve cochlear
implant technology. 

These cochlear implants skip past malfunctioning hair cells in the cochlea, the organ in the inner ear that translates sound, and connect with nearby auditory nerve cells to get signals to the brain. But it’s difficult to target the right nerve cells, which is why sound through these implants is frequently distorted. Optogenetics, which uses light-sensitive proteins to control living cells, could address that problem by offering more precise results through an optical cochlear implant. 

In a recent study, German bioengineers implanted a protein containing optical fibers in the ears of deaf gerbils. When they sent a pulse of laser light into the gerbils’ ears, the gerbils reacted, showing similar behaviors to gerbils with full hearing. 

Tobias Moser, the lead author of the study, said, “I had been working on hearing and deafness as a neuroscientist and otolaryngologist for a few years before optogenetics came up. It was clear to me that the cochlear implant is great but suffers from poor spatial control of neural excitation in the cochlea. In fact, most of us would agree that this is the most important bottleneck, resulting in poor frequency resolution in coding and consequently poor speech recognition in background noise.

“When optogenetics came up, I considered this the way to go for fundamentally advancing today’s cochlear implant,” he said.

Previous studies of optical cochlear implants in mice and rats have shown some promise, but this study’s authors wanted to use a species with a hearing system closer to that of humans. Adult Mongolian gerbils have comparatively large cochleas and can hear low frequencies just like human ears can.  

The gerbils were first trained through a loudspeaker to jump across a barrier inside a shuttlebox. After they were deafened, they didn’t respond to the loudspeaker. After “hearing” the laser light, the gerbils took an average of two days to relearn the task. 

According to the study, the gerbils’ neural response to the light looked similar to their original response to sound, and their neurons performed more like normal neurons.

The study team had been expecting they’d be able to restore some hearing physiology and behavior in the gerbils. But, said Moser, director of the Institute for Auditory Neuroscience at the University Medical Center Göttingen, “We were surprised that the temporal fidelity of the neural response was quite high and that animals readily transferred the behavior from acoustic to optical stimulation and vice versa.”

The study found that results over several weeks were close to normal hearing behavior, with no long-term damage to the gerbils.

These findings are unlikely to bring results for human users anytime soon, however. The scientists used gene therapy to inject the protein in the gerbils’ ears, a procedure that is mostly unavailable for everyday use. And this usage of light requires a lot of energy, more than could be safely stored in a battery, according to the study.

But, Moser said, the study shows that cochlear optogenetics could be a good alternative for those with hearing loss, once more in-depth research has been conducted on it.

The study’s authors plan to further develop these methods for practical use and Moser said they hope to finish the preclinical work to begin that process in about two years. He added that they’re pleased that colleagues in the field have joined the effort.

Lockheed Martin Aculight, for instance, is already working on an infrared laser-based cochlear implant, containing a small strip of lasers rather than electrode pads. The device is still in the testing stages, though.

There’s been interest in this topic for years. An earlier study found that infrared laser pulses sent through water increase temperature and energy in cells, suggesting that the laser light could be used to help treat problems with the nervous system and other organs as well as with hearing.

In the meantime, Moser recommends those with hearing loss continue to use traditional hearing aids or electrical cochlear implants, “as hearing rehabilitation is so critical,” and switching to an optical cochlear implant down the road should still be an option.

August 17, 2018


The basics of waterproof hearing aids

Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing

If you enjoy water sports, boating or you just forget to take your hearing aids out before showering, you might wonder if you need waterproof hearing aids. Actually, that’s a trick question. Currently, there aren’t any hearing aids on the market which are completely waterproof. Most of them, however, are definitely water resistant, and for most hearing aid wearers, that’s probably good enough.

IP ratings and what they mean

waterproof hearing aids
Always take hearing aids out before 
enjoying water sports.

You may not be familiar with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), but they’ve probably tested the hearing aids you wear to determine how resistant they are to elements such as dust and water.

Each hearing aid receives a two-digit IP, or Ingress Protection, rating from the IEC. The first digit rates the degree of protection against debris, such as dust or sand, and is rated on a scale of 1-7. The second digit, rated on a scale from 1-9, indicates how resistant the electrical device is to moisture. A hearing aid with an IP 67 rating means it is highly protected against solid objects such as sand or dust and has been tested to work for at least 30 minutes in water less than three feet deep.

Regardless of their IP rating, most hearing aid manufacturers do not recommend submerging any of their devices in water. In fact, some of the counseling you’ll receive from your hearing healthcare professional includes information about how to keep moisture away from your hearing aids. Moisture is no friend to the delicate electronic parts of these expensive devices. These components work best when they are kept clean and dry.

Water resistant hearing aids 

Of course, despite our best attempts to be careful, accidents happen. Is owning a hearing aid with a high IP rating for moisture in your best interests? It might be worth considering if:

  • You perspire heavily. If you’re constantly wiping perspiration from your face during work or play, your hearing aids are probably exposed to more moisture than most.
  • You live in humid/wet climates or enjoy water-related hobbies such as boating or fishing.
  • You are forgetful or absent-minded. Some hearing aid wearers say their devices are so comfortable, they completely forget to take them out before they step into the shower.

Dry hearing aids work best

Even if you don’t fit into one of those categories, it’s always a good idea to keep your hearing aids as clean and dry as possible. The following nighttime regimen will help extend their life and keep them working efficiently.

  • Wipe them down. Before you go to bed each night, remove the batteries and wipe the entire device with a dry, dust-free cloth.
  • Keep the battery compartment door open until the following morning. This allows any moisture they may have collected during the day to evaporate overnight.
  • Invest in a dehumidifier. This inexpensive piece of equipment is a good place to store your hearing aids overnight. Ask your hearing healthcare professional for their recommendation or search for one at your local drugstore.

If you’re still confused about what type of hearing aids are best for you, discuss it with your hearing healthcare professional. Be sure to share as much about your lifestyle as possible, so they can help you choose the best devices for your hearing loss, budget and listening environments. Today’s hearing devices are technological marvels. Chances are, even though completely waterproof devices are not available, water resistant models are capable of enduring most of what life has to offer.

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