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'Hearing Loops’ Installed At Johns Hopkins Facility To Improve Sound Quality For People With Hearing Aids And Cochlear Implants - 09/11/2012

'Hearing Loops’ Installed At Johns Hopkins Facility To Improve Sound Quality For People With Hearing Aids And Cochlear Implants

Release Date: September 11, 2012

People with hearing aids or cochlear implants who visit the audiology clinic and Listening Center at Johns Hopkins can expect much clearer and enhanced sound the next time they check-in at the reception desk, their numbers are called over the public speaker system, or are given directions to clinic examination rooms. They can also directly tune into the waiting-area TVs and audio entertainment system without distortion or interference from background noise.

The technological improvements result from installation this month of so-called hearing loops, thin metal wires that are installed around the ceilings and floor of the audiology clinic's main public areas, located in the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center on Johns Hopkins Medicine's East Baltimore campus. Officials at the clinic say if all goes well, they hope other clinics at Johns Hopkins, as well as other medical centers and public places nearby, will outfit their own facilities.

Experts say the hearing loops, also known as induction loops, act like antennae, relaying sounds picked up by local microphones, which are then transmitted wirelessly by magnetic signal directly to any nearby listening devices. People with hearing aids or cochlear implants would set their devices to the "T," short for telecoil, setting to receive the signal.

Johns Hopkins is believed to be the first and only medical center in Maryland to install the loops. The simple technology, Hopkins experts note, has been available for decades in churches, symphony halls, and other venues, but slow to be adopted by facilities that service the estimated 36 million Americans who live with some form of hearing loss. To let people with hearing loss know about the induction sound improvements, the Johns Hopkins Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, like other public spaces equipped with the technology, displays bright blue signs in the shape of an ear outlined in white and a "T" symbol in the corner.

"People with hearing loss get really excited about hearing loops; many even cry with relief because the improvement in sound quality is so dramatic," says Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., the Johns Hopkins otologist and epidemiologist who led departmental efforts to get the loops installed. "Many of them say it is the first time they can actually hear what other people are saying - free of the din from crowds or other background noises."

Lin, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health, says he was inspired to have the loops installed after a special performance in March by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, for which the concert hall had been specially outfitted with the loops. "People were truly amazed at the difference in sound quality," says Lin, "and it seemed like a relatively simple way of making the most out of technology for the benefit of our patients." He estimates that more than 5,000 people with listening devices pass through the Johns Hopkins audiology clinic and Listening Center annually, and could make use of the system, which cost less than $10,000 to purchase and install.

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