I don't have rings on my fingers and bells on my toes like the old nursery rhyme, but I do have music wherever I go. I have the music because I'm looped - neck-looped, that is. And my neck loop goes wherever I go.
Living room and even much larger-sized induction or "hearing" loops have received considerable coverage, even before the beginning of the Get in the Hearing Loop Campaign by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and the American Academy of Audiology. Since then, they have even been reported in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and other major newspapers and magazines around the country. In none of those articles did the neck loop get much, if any, mention though. I think that's unfortunate.
As a long-time hearing aid wearer, I was amazed and delighted when I tried on a neck loop in the cacophonous exhibit hall of an HLAA convention some time ago and discovered I could hear and understand the person I called - even with all of that background noise. That I was hearing him in both ears was just frosting on the cake! Previously, I had to seek out a quiet spot to make a call and then still struggle to understand sometimes. This was a revelation to me. I bought the loop on the spot.
Our local HLAA chapter uses a looped room for meetings, and I had long followed the proceedings using the telecoils in my hearing aids. But my new neck loop opened up a whole new world of hearing possibilities for me, so now I try to spread the word. A national survey found that more than 80 percent of HLAA members use telecoils, and I'm working to make sure they have discovered the neck loop, too.
With the introduction of a neck loop, my hearing aids became a versatile and sophisticated personal listening system. The loop dramatically increased the functionality of my hearing aids - and it did so at a minimal cost. I already had the telecoils in my hearing aids, as well as a cell phone, an iPod, and a number of other grown-up toys that produced sound.
Audiologist Bill Diles, MA, of Kenwood Hearing, in Santa Rosa, CA, has been a big supporter of hearing loops for years. At a presentation to our local HLAA chapter, he told us that this increased functionality translated into clients being much happier with their hearing aids and his services. returns from first-time hearing aid buyers dropped dramatically. Being a former retailer, I can appreciate the positive impact this had on his bottom line.
At HLAA meetings we always have some newcomers whose hearing aids don't have telecoils, and they are surprised and disappointed to learn that we can hear when they can't just because of a little copper coil. It turns out some of them do have telecoils, but they don't have a manual control for them. Still others don't have a manual volume control on their hearing aids, and the loop may be too loud or too soft. When these situations arise, they are not happy with their providers.
They might experience the same problem with a neck loop if it doesn't have its own volume control. They might be able to adjust the volume when using the control on their cell phone or MP3 player, but that's not possible in some instances.
When people ask me about my neck loop, I explain that it takes the place of a headset. I show them how I turn on the telecoils by simply pressing a button on my hearing aids. I stress to people that their hearing aids must have telecoils in order to use a neck loop and that there must be a manual control for the telecoils.
Though not a requirement - due to the varying strength of loop signals, some of which might not meet international standards - I tell them optimum loop/telecoil operation will be assured only if their hearing aids also have manual volume controls.
I explain that I use my neck loop with my cell phone, iPod, computer and other devices and can talk hands-free on my landline phone. I let them know what great friends my neck loop and personal FM system are.
The number of ways a neck loop can be used is limited only by the number of devices into which it can be plugged. People have installed a jack in the radio or CD player in their car. By turning off their hearing aid mics and using a neck loop to overcome the sound of the engine and the hum of the tires, they can enjoy the sound system in their car, which may have been almost useless to them before.
But what about Bluetooth®? Bluetooth is an exciting and valuable addition to the mix of technology and devices available to people who are hard of hearing. It can do many of the same things as a neck loop and telecoils and even some things they cannot. While my neck loop and many devices currently meet my needs, my hearing aids are Bluetooth-capable.
I'm aware that Bluetooth isn't going to let me hear at HLAA meetings, in churches, or at the looped Albuquerque Little Theatre. Bluetooth promoters are now making accommodations for hearing loops. At the recent HLAA Convention they demonstrated neck loops that made older, telecoil-equipped but Bluetooth-incompatible hearing aids become compatible, "translating" the Bluetooth signal into a magnetic induction signal.
The best example that Bluetooth and hearing loops can work together may be the addition of telecoils to the gateway devices now available from manufacturers such as Siemens and Widex. Those devices not only connect hearing aids to a myriad of Bluetooth devices, the telecoil installed in them lets the wearer pick up electromagnetic loop transmissions with some of the smallest hearing instruments - those too small to contain a telecoil.
Hearing aid manufacturers apparently are increasingly aware of and value the role that hearing loops - neck-sized or room-sized - and telecoils play in the overall experience of hearing aid users. Nearly 70 percent of all current hearing aid models have telecoils, which is up considerably from the 30 percent reported a decade ago.
As a former retailer, I feel if hearing care providers stocked and sold neck loops from their office, there would be a lot more happy campers like me - thrilled with my hearing aids and delighted with my provider. I hope practices will consider stocking telecoils and neck loops and providing counseling.
If it's not practical for you to stock and sell neck loops, you can obtain Get in the Hearing Loop brochures about telecoils from HLAA or download and print the fact sheet from AAA, then print a small handout with sources where your patients can purchase neck loops. Recommend a neck loop with a mic and volume control.
Your clients can order neck loops online and then bring them in so you can adjust the telecoils in their hearing aids to maximize performance. You might find that you can recruit new customers if you demonstrate the use of neck loops and telecoils as part of your counseling.
Steve Frazier is coordinator of the New Mexico Chapter of HLAA, chair of the Loop New Mexico Committee, and a member of the state hearing aid dispenser licensing board. He was a member of the HLAA/AAA Get in the Hearing Loop task force and now serves in a similar capacity for HLAA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.