Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Connected: New device changes life of hearing-impaired

Catherine, my wife, got ink this week in the Post-Gazette. She didn't even talk to the reporter, yet was quoted.

Meanwhile, I'm calling upon reporters all the time and some just ignore me. Others are great. But I'd love to make some headway with some: Joe, Jon, Marty, Lynn, Colin, Susan and Fred. A few are doing little to advance discussions and drill down for real solutions.

Well, here is the article.
Connected: New device changes life of hearing-impaired Connected: New device changes life of hearing-impaired
Saturday, October 06, 2007 By David Radin

Don Selig used to sell consumer electronics, which exposed him to high sound volumes for many years. That may have contributed to his hearing problems -- problems which he has been solving with various types of hearing aids.

The first hearing aid he purchased was 20 years ago; and he has refreshed his devices every couple years by replacing each one with newer technology. Most of the new devices have brought him better hearing than the previous device, even as his hearing has deteriorated. Except that $7,000 hearing aid he bought last year. It was so bad that he replaced it with the hearing aid he had worn earlier.

Last month Mr. Selig asked his doctor if he could get a Cochlear Implant. The implant is for profoundly deaf people. Unlike traditional hearing aids, it doesn't amplify the sound. Instead, it bypasses the part of a person's hearing mechanism that is not working, allowing the person to "hear" the impulses.

Unfortunately for Mr. Selig, although his hearing has been deteriorating, it was not bad enough to qualify for the implant. So Dr Barry Hirsch, his physician at UPMC, suggested that he stop by the facility's audiology department to see what types of new technology might be available to him.

The audiologist, Dr. Catherine Palmer, introduced him to a new tech hearing aid, from a company called Phonak (www.phonak.com), which has changed Mr. Selig's life for the better. Although used primarily as a hearing aid, the $6,000 device also can be used as an iPod accessory and conference call device.

Mr. Selig wears pieces in both of his ears so he can hear equally well in each. They slip over the back of his ear like traditional hearing aids. There's also a separate device, called SmartLink that transmits wirelessly to the ear pieces -- acting as a microphone. At lectures, he asks the speaker to wear a SmartLink around his neck and Mr. Selig can hear every word crisply enough to differentiate between "f" and "s" -- letters that had earlier caused him confusion. The stage production of "My Fair Lady" was a joy, as Mr. Selig plugged into a wireless FM receiver provided by the theater.

He can also place his SmartLink on a conference table and set it to hear sound from multiple directions instead of from a single focal point. And when riding in a car, Mr. Selig gives it to the people in the back seat, so he can carry on a perfect conversation.

Occasionally, you might see Mr. Selig sitting back staring into space; but he's really listening to a book. He does it by plugging in his iPod, which has books in mp3 format, allowing him to listen with crystal clarity with sound in both ears -- without taking out his hearing aid ear pieces. Unlike standard iPod ear buds though, Mr. Selig can switch his ear pieces to a setting that allows sound to come in from around him as he listens to his iPod. (I can sense jealous parents drooling as you read this.)

His hearing device can even connect wirelessly to his cell phone using Bluetooth technology; so he can have a phone conversation without having to hassle with his hearing aid.

While talking with Mr. Selig, one can sense the enthusiasm he has about his newly enhanced hearing -- and his joy about being able to better carry on in his profession and daily life. It's hard to even tell he has a hearing disadvantage.

But I guess at this time he really doesn't -- thanks to great new technology.

First published on October 6, 2007 at 12:00 am
David Radin is a business consultant and free-lance writer. You can contact him at www.megabyteminute.com.

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