Hearing aids are now widely used and can offer considerable assistance to many with hearing defects. With continued improvement in electronics, better, more efficient and smaller models are constantly being produced. The older “body-level” devices are rapidly giving way to the more sophisticated aids that arc worn at ear level.
There are two main kinds of devices, an air-conduction aid and a bone conduction aid. The unit consists of a microphone, amplifier and receiver.
Older models had the microphone, amplifier and batteries on a cord around the neck and located in front of the chest, with a wire leading to the receiver in the ear. With current models, the total equipment is incorporated into one structure.
Nearly all patients do better with an air-conduction device. Bone conduction depends on the receiver being pressed against the mastoid bone behind the ear and kept in position by a spring band. Vibrations are transmitted via the bone.
Ear-level devices seem more suitable for youngsters and schoolchildren, for they largely remove the noise generated by rubbing clothing, and sound is received at its normal site. With the methods by which they may be concealed, embarrassment may also be largely overcome, a substantial consideration for schoolchildren.
It is essential that the patient be permitted to have an adequate trial with the device under all normal conditions (at home, at work etc) before being committed to a final purchase.
In recent years considerable progress is being made with cochlear implants, used mainly for the profoundly deaf. They are small electronic devices surgically inserted into the ear region. At present they certainly do not allow clear discrimination of words without visual clues, but are helpful in distinguishing environmental sounds and warning signals, all vital to personal safety. They help the deaf to modulate their own sounds, so making their noises more intelligible to those around them. With more research, better definition may be possible. It is much better than total silence.
In profoundly deaf children, when hearing devices are not assisting. and they are not candidates for cochlear implants, signing is often successful. This means talking with fingers, hands and using other methods of “signing.” Thousands of words and phrases are quickly learnt, and communication is quick and successful. This is taught at special schools, usually commencing at an early age. Hearing brothers or sisters usually learn the skill, and even at an early age can communicate proficiently with the deaf child. It is amazing to see the alacrity and understanding that occurs. Laughing, crying, happiness, sadness are emotional traits that occur normally in the deaf as with anyone else.