Hearing Assistive Technology: Aids, BAHA & CI

May 3, 2021By: Jamie Bozarth, Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

There are many different types of technology available for those with hearing loss. But, what exactly are the pros and cons of each type? This blog will give you an overview of what to expect from Cochlear Implants, Hearing Aids, and Bone Anchored Hearing Aids.

Hearing Assistive Technology

Hearing assistive technology is any device that allows a person with hearing loss access to auditory information. Hearing loss can range from mild to profoundly deaf and the assistive technology used to access sound may be different for each type and degree of hearing loss.  People with hearing loss can be any age, ranging from newborn infant to the elderly.  An audiologist will determine the type and degree of hearing loss and then make recommendations for an appropriate hearing device for each individual based on age, hearing loss type/degree and various other factors. 

Cochlear Implant (CI)

Another type of assistive technology for the hearing impaired is a Cochlear Implant.  These are used when a person has a severe to profound loss and does not gain any auditory benefit from traditional hearing aids. 

How Do Cochlear Implants Work?

An electrode array is surgically implanted into the cochlea inside the person’s ear.  There are certain hearing loss requirements that need to be considered when determining if someone is a candidate for a cochlear implant.  Once the array is implanted into the cochlea there is a timeline for healing before the outside processor can be put on and activated. The processor looks similar to a BTE but sits on the ear without a mold in the ear canal. Once the processor is activated it will be programmed to stimulate specific electrodes on the array to send the auditory messages to the brain.  A person who receives a cochlear implant will hear the equivalent of Morse Code beeps and clicks.  The brain quickly learns to interpret these beeps and clicks as meaningful sounds. 

Cochlear Implant Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Potential access to all auditory information and ability to learn to “hear”.
  • This type of procedure and the equipment is covered by insurance and is not overly costly to the patient.
  • Easy to pair with FM systems and streaming devices.

Cons:

  • Requires a minimally invasive surgery and once the array is in the cochlea it destroys all residual hearing. 
  • Requires extensive auditory training to train the brain to understand all the sounds coming in and it is not a guaranteed fix to a hearing loss.
  • Some children receive a CI and never learn to “hear” and understand the auditory information coming into the brain.

Hearing Aids

One type of assistive technology for hearing loss is a hearing aid.  A hearing aid can be a behind the ear type that is typically seen worn on children or an in the ear type typically seen in adults. 

How Do Hearing Aids Work?

A behind the ear (BTE) hearing aid has a mold that fits snuggly in the ear and a hearing aid that sits on the back of the ear.  The microphone on the hearing aid picks up auditory information in the surrounding environment and amplifies the sound sending it directly into the person’s ears.

Pros and Cons of Hearing Aids

Pros:

  • Can be taken on and off.
  • Has multiple programing options to allow for different listening options.
  • Easily replaced or upgraded as needed.
  • Easy to fit for any age person.
  • Making a new mold for growing ears is easy and inexpensive.
  • Noninvasive way to amplify sounds for the hearing impaired.
  • Easy to pair with FM systems and streaming devices.

Cons:

  • Amplifies all sounds and can be difficult to block out background noises without additional technology.
  • Can’t amplify all sounds for everyone with severe to profound hearing loss.
  • Not covered well by insurance.
  • No guarantee of access to or the ability to understand all incoming auditory information.

Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA)

What are bone anchored hearing aids? A third type of hearing technology is called a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA). This type of device is used for a conductive hearing loss that affects the middle ear bones or the outer ear. 

How Does a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid Work?

The inner ear cochlea and auditory nerve are fully functioning.  Most often a BAHA is used for those patients whom are born with atresia (mal formed ear or no ear), those with a small ear canal or any type of hearing loss that involves the three small bones impeding their ability to vibrate correctly.  A BAHA picks up sound and stimulates the skull causing vibrations on the skull that then stimulate the cochlea and auditory nerve. These devices can be worn with a head band for small children or a magnet can be surgically implanted under the skin so that the BAHA can be attached via a magnet on the side of the head without the need for a headband. 

Bone Anchored Hearing Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Access to sound and no surgery or very minimal surgery to place magnet.
  • Does not destroy any residual hearing.
  • Easy to pair with FM systems and streaming devices.

Cons:

  • Devices may not be well covered by insurance.
  • Headbands can be difficult to keep on small children.

Final thoughts on hearing assistive technology for the deaf and hearing impaired

Along with all three of these types of hearing devices there are many assistive listening devices that can help those with hearing loss access sound.

  • FM systems: used to help reduce background noise and amplify the voice of a speaker.
  • Loop systems: used with tele-coil programing on each type of the above devices to allow access to sound in large rooms such as: churches, school buildings, community center events, etc.
  •  Streaming devices: Hearing devices can also be paired with cell phones, computers, tablets, etc to allow the sound to stream right into the hearing deice via Bluetooth pairing or using an axillary cable or loop system.

There are many different types of technology available for those with hearing loss that allow access to auditory information. With the invention and continual improvements of these devices those who have hearing loss can now access the “hearing” world in a variety of ways. Along with insurance, there are many supplemental programs in each state that provide financial assistance to those with a hearing loss to allow them to obtain many of these hearing technology devices.

If you are a deaf and hard of hearing teacher looking for your next job or a district looking for services, make sure to search through all of our virtual DHH openings through the button below!

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