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Aids for the Ear

  Audiologist Colleen Ryan in the Hearing Center. May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.
The patient needed help with her new hearing aid, but she was stubborn. "And she had every right to be. She was 101 years old," says Colleen Ryan, an audiologist in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery who specializes in hearing devices. "Still, I knew we had something that could help her. So we went into the Hearing Center, tried out some of the devices on display, and found one that could really improve her situation."

With its array of aids for the ear, the Hearing Center, which opened in the Audiology Division last fall, supplements services provided by the audiologists on staff by allowing them to discuss and demonstrate specific products. It also provides a hassle-free way for patients to obtain devices that will improve their hearing and, Ryan hopes, the quality of their lives.

The Hearing Center supplies far more than the standard hearing aid. There are amplifiers for doorbells, telephones and televisions; vibrating, under-the-pillow alarm clocks; and all manner of custom-made earplugs. "Musicians, for example, may want to decrease the volume without affecting the quality of sound," explains Ryan. There are neoprene headbands to keep water out of a child's infected ear, and there are even a few products particularly popular among physicians.

Ryan demonstrates a tube that can be fitted with an earbud to lengthen the reach of a stethoscope, a popular item for anesthesiologists, who need to monitor patients' heartbeats throughout lengthy operations. The Pocket Talker consists of a headphone set attached to a small microphone with volume control that can help doctors communicate more naturally with patients who have trouble hearing-particularly in cases where confidentiality is an issue.

Custom-molded earpieces improve the comfort of cell phones, and there's a wireless system that works on the same principle as an FM radio, transmitting the voice of a speaker through a microphone to the listener's small earpiece. This product, says Ryan, could help a hearing-impaired child listen to the teacher in a classroom or an executive hear the essential voices at a conference table.

The Audiology Division, on the sixth floor of the Outpatient Center, conducts hearing tests on everyone from infants to the elderly. Staff audiologists fit patients with hearing aids and recommend other listening devices. The quality of hearing aids has improved dramatically in recent years, Ryan says. These days, background noises can be filtered out, and hearing aids can be adjusted according to type of environment, from a busy restaurant to an evening at the opera.

And as technology continues to evolve, Ryan expects the Hearing Center to be kept in tune. What does the future hold? Hearing aids may one day incorporate technology that will enable users to, for example, check their voice mail or e-mail

-Martha Thomas



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