Hearing aids of the past often limited the wearer’s access to many personal audio devices such as mobile phones and music players. For example, in order to use a music player while jogging, you would have had to remove your hearing aids to accommodate a pair of earbuds. However, today’s sophisticated wireless hearing aids, such as the new OpnTM from Oticon, use Bluetooth technology to make it possible to connect with personal electronic devices and stream signals directly to hearing aids.
What is Bluetooth?
Developed through collaboration of leading technology firms, Bluetooth is a wireless communication platform that allows for the transfer of data between two or more electronic devices. The technology uses radio waves set to a high frequency to transmit data without interference or security risks. A wide variety of products incorporating Bluetooth connectivity have been developed, including mobile phones, music players, computers, tablets and televisions.
Are there Bluetooth hearing aids?
A full implementation of the Bluetooth standard requires a greater power supply than can be generated within the small footprint of a hearing aid battery, so actual “Bluetooth hearing aids” are not currently on the market. However, manufacturers of wireless hearing aids long ago created a clever solution for accessing this prevalent wireless standard. Wireless hearing aids can use compatible assistive listening devices, often called streamers, to provide a communication link between the wireless technology in the hearing aids and any Bluetooth-enabled device. More recently, Apple has patented a specific Bluetooth connectivity with hearing aids so that certain hearing aids, like the LiNX2 from GN ReSound and the Starkey Halo, can communicate directly with the iOS platform that runs iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. This technology is designed to allow the devices direct connection without extreme stress on the battery power. Several hearing aid manufacturers have released hearing aids that implement this Bluetooth technology, marketed as Made for iPhone™.
How does Bluetooth work with wireless hearing aids?
During the initial consultation about hearing aids with a hearing care provider, you should discuss your needs for wireless connectivity. If you need or want to connect with a mobile phone, tablet, computer, music player or other Bluetooth-enabled device, the hearing care provider will recommend a set of wireless hearing aids and if appropriate, a compatible streamer.
The wireless hearing aids can either be paired directly to an Apple device (if labeled as Made for iPhone™) or be paired with the streamer, and then the streamer can be paired with external devices. When it’s all set up, the streamer will pick up the Bluetooth signal from your phone, for example, and send it to your hearing aid via an FM signal or electromagnetic field, depending on the manufacturer’s design. Usually the streamer is worn around the neck or placed in a pocket for hands-free operation.
What are the benefits of streaming via Bluetooth?
Although you often must carry an additional device in order to access your mobile phone or music player, a streamer provides many opportunities that were previously unavailable.
Personalized listening experience
The audio signal can usually be set to stream to one or both hearing aids and the streamed signal can be amplified and shaped to match the hearing aid’s personalized settings. The volume of the stream may be controlled by the streamer or the hearing aids, depending on the manufacturer’s design. In the case of a music player, the hearing aids can become a set of wireless ear buds. For a phone, it may be desirous to stream the signal to just one hearing aid so as to keep the other one accessing the other sounds in the room. This hands-free solution sure beats trying to position the mobile phone receiver close to the hearing aid microphone!
Multiple devices can usually be paired to one streamer, so you can easily switch between different devices. For example, you can be connected to your mobile phone while you’re streaming a movie from your tablet. The streamer is able to interrupt or pause the audio from your tablet in order to bring you the audio signal from an incoming phone call.
Remote control of your hearing aids
Commonly, there are also capabilities for remotely changing the volume or program from the streamer. This is especially useful if your hearing aids are too small to accommodate external controls.
Last but not least, Bluetooth is an electronics industry standard protocol. It’s not unique to a particular hearing aid or hearing aid manufacturer, so there is uniformity in the way that it works across all devices. The platform has been tested and refined already, as it’s been in use for many years in the mobile phone industry. As stated above, the Bluetooth connection is secure and there’s no interference.
Bluetooth is today's cutting edge technology
Bluetooth-enabled streamers are assistive listening devices that have greatly elevated the hearing aid wearing experience and enable hearing aids to double as highly-personalized, custom audio devices. It’s an example of using today’s wireless hearing aid technology in a smart way that truly provides convenience for hearing aid wearers.
To use your hearing aids to stay connected to your network of friends and family and all of your latest audio devices, talk to your hearing care professional about wireless hearing aids, Bluetooth streaming and Made for iPhone™ hearing aids.