Bluetooth for Beginners
Bluetooth refers to a type of wireless technology found in a multitude of devices and technologies today. Ranging from computers to cell phones, this wireless technology uses radio waves rather than cords to allow for one device to communicate with another. In order for this technology to work, the devices must be ‘paired’ to one another at the initial setup. After this initial pairing, the devices will connect with each other when they are within a certain range. An example of a Bluetooth pairing would be a car with Bluetooth connected to the driver’s cell phone. Rather than answering the call on the phone and holding it to the ear, the driver can answer the call via the car speakers, allowing for a hands free option.
Bluetooth and hearing aids
The incorporation of wireless technology and Bluetooth into modern hearing aids has allowed for significant benefits to the user. Wireless technology has allowed for communication between two hearing aids, creating the mechanism for hearing aid manufacturers to better mimic how the brain and ears interact, particularly in noisy environments. Hearing aids are now able to “talk” to each other and make decisions together based on the listening environment to better enhance the speech signal while decreasing interfering noise. The hearing aid user also only needs to adjust the volume or program settings on one hearing instrument for the changes to be made on both devices.
Hearing Aids and Phones
Historically hearing aids and telephones have presented a multitude of challenges to both the patient and the hearing healthcare professional. Many hearing aid users found that either the signal from the phone was unclear, or they might have experienced feedback (whistling from the hearing aid) when holding the phone near the hearing aid. With Bluetooth connectivity, the hearing aid user can answer phone calls via the hearing devices without the need to hold the phone to the ear. The phone conversation can be transmitted to both hearing devices simultaneously or to just one. The ability to hear the phone call in both ears is a tremendous advantage, especially if background noise or music is present.
Yet another advantage of Bluetooth technology is the ability to utilize an application on a smartphone or tablet as a remote control for the hearing devices. Via the app, the user is able to change volume, programs, check the status of the battery or change the directional microphone or noise reduction features.
The Bluetooth connection also enables the hearing aids to be found if they are misplaced or lost. Use the app to activate the “find my hearing aids” feature to locate them using the GPS on a cell phone or tablet.
For Music Lovers
Bluetooth connectivity to a phone or digital music player turns hearing aids into wireless earbuds. With the excellent fidelity of modern hearing aids, music lovers have been thrilled at the ability to stream music without the need for additional accessories or the need to remove the hearing aids.
Some hearing aids require an intermediary device (Bluetooth bridge) to communicate between the hearing aids and other Bluetooth technologies. This Bluetooth streamer is usually rechargeable and allows for less battery drain on the hearing aids themselves. These streamers may also contain a T-coil to integrate with loop systems, often found in churches, theaters, banks and airports.
More recently hearing aid manufacturers have introduced direct Bluetooth connections from any Bluetooth device to the hearing aids themselves. With this type of connectivity, the user can pair the hearing devices directly to a phone, TV, tablet or computer, eliminating the need for an additional device.
Another option to consider is the use of a companion microphone. This option allows a family member, friend or spouse to wear a small microphone that will wirelessly stream their voice directly to the hearing aids. This option is extremely beneficial in noisy restaurants, small group settings or lectures. For a small group or lecture, some companion microphones have a feature that allows them to change to a “tabletop” mode that will pick up the voice of those nearest to the microphone and send it directly to the hearing aids.
Recently the world’s first internet ready hearing instrument was released. Imagine a world where the close of the battery door on your hearing instrument starts your coffee maker or turns on the television. Or you may wish to have your hearing aids alert you when there is someone at your door or your laundry is finished!
Future applications of Bluetooth technologies in hearing aids may include the ability to track your heart rate, activity level, blood pressure and more! The possibilities are endless and exciting! Stay tuned for the latest in Bluetooth advances in hearing aids.