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They can be used with earbuds or headsets or they can be used alongside a hearing aid or cochlear implant to help a wearer hear in specific situations.

Personal amplifiers

Personal amplifiers are helpful if you only want to hear conversations with one or two people, listen to TV, or when travelling in a car. It will amplify all sound, but you can adjust the volume level.

These are generally worn with a headset or earbuds, and the other person’s voice or TV audio is picked up by a microphone receiver and amplified.

Some personal amplifiers are Y-shaped, known as a ‘stethoset’: you put two earpieces into your ears and the receiver sits under the listener’s chin. There are no wires.

Others have a length of cable wire that allows you to place the microphone closer to a source of sound. In the car, you could be seated in the back with the microphone next to the driver so you can hear what is said.

A personal amplifier is often not suitable for noisy spaces such as in a café or restaurant, or with a large group of people.

FM systems

Some personal listening systems use FM radio frequencies to send sound. The sound travels from the source, e.g. a person speaking via a microphone or TV speaker, and transmits directly to the receiver. This can be connected to a hearing aid or cochlear implant, or received through a headset.

This system is often used in classrooms, for example when a child has an Auditory Processing Disorder, the teacher wears a lapel-style microphone and the student wears the headset, and can hear the teacher's voice directly in the ear, overcoming the classroom noise factor.

Loop systems

A loop system (also known as an induction loop) consists of a wire that loops a room, and picks up an electrical signal from a sound source e.g. microphone, TV or radio. The electromagnetic signal is then picked up by a hearing aid, cochlear implant or headset that has been fitted with a T-switch or telecoil to receive the signal. Most hearing aid-compatible telephones will connect to a hearing aid or cochlear implant via telecoil also.

This overcomes a lot of the the impact of background noise or distance. When used with a TV you can adjust the volume at ear level, while the TV remains at a comfortable level for others.

Some companies have their reception desk looped, so that clients or visitors can pick up the receptionist’s voice clearly with hearing aids or cochlear implant fitted with a telecoil function.

Neck loop, cushion loop

A personal inductive neck loop is a portable version of a loop system for people with hearing aids. You wear the induction loop around your neck, and the hearing aid or cochlear implant is turned to a T-switch pickup setting. You can then hear the sound without the general background noise interrupting.

With a cushion loop set-up, the induction wire loop is set into a cushion which is placed on a chair and the person sits within the loop.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth technology is wireless and “pairs” devices so that they connect directly. It streams audio signals from one electronic device to another, for example from a music player, mobile phone or TV direct to the hearing aids. You would need to talk to an audiologist to find out if your hearing aid is compatible with this technology.

Contact a hearing therapist

A hearing therapist can advise on equipment. LIFE Unlimited Hearing Therapists provide impartial advice, information and free hearing tests throughout New Zealand. Hearing therapists do not fit hearing aids or provide equipment, but can advise and support people through this process.

To find one in your area, call LIFE Unlimited on 0800 008 011 or visit their website.

THANKS TO: Jacqui Taylor, Hearing Therapists Association of New Zealand