Why are hearing aid manufacturers seeing more and more orders for telecoils? Aren’t telecoils old technology?
Great question –why is telecoil utilization rapidly increasing in the United States now when telecoils were first introduced into hearing aids over 60 years ago? To begin, telecoils were initially used to improve speech understanding on landline telephones. When a hearing aid user switches the hearing instrument to the telecoil setting and places it near the receiver of a hearing aid compatible telephone, the acoustic signal coming from the speaker on the other end of the telephone is converted into a magnetic signal. The hearing aid then converts the magnetic signal, which is free from background noise, into an acoustic signal, offering the hearing aid user an improved signal-to-noise ratio.
Telecoil use steadily declined in the 1990’s in the United States despite the fact that a more favorable signal-to-noise ratio might be expected compared to acoustic coupling to the telephone (Picou and Ricketts, 2013). This is partly explained by the fact that placement of the telephone in order to receive the signal optimally can be rather tricky. Moving the telephone receiver only 1 inch away from the optimum position can reduce output of the desired signal by 15 dB (Holmes and Chase, 1985). However, the primary reason for fewer telecoils in hearing aids was attributed to the trend to fit less-severely hearing impaired users with smaller, custom in-the-ear aids, which did not contain telecoils due to size constraints. In fact, in 2002, only 37% of the hearing aids dispensed had telecoils (Kirkwood, 2005). In addition, landline phone use decreased as digital cell phones, many of which were not hearing aid compatible, were introduced into the marketplace.
Although telecoil use declined in the United States during the 1990’s, its use was increasing at a rapid pace throughout Europe, which resulted in an expansion of its applicability and the looping of many large venues and public facilities. When telecoils are used in these types of looped facilities, the negative effects of background noise, reverberation and distance are eliminated when sound is transmitted directly to the hearing instruments.
The benefits of looping are finally being realized in the United States. In large part this was facilitated by the introduction of smaller, cosmetically appealing behind-the-ear hearing aids that can accommodate telecoils. As of 2009, approximately 58% (Kirkwood, 2009) of hearing aid users in the United States were fit with hearing aids with telecoils. In addition, many hearing aids users are also using digital wireless accessories that offer significant speech understanding benefit in multiple listening environments. In part, due to the lack of a universally accepted transmission frequency, their use is currently limited in many venues in which an inductive loop can offer significant audibility benefits.
Further, in 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set up regulations regarding hearing aid compatibility of digital wireless phones (FCC.gov). Much of the credit of increased telecoil use is also due to the “Get in the Hearing Loop” campaign which was organized in 2010 by the Hearing Loss Association of America and the American Academy of Audiology. These groups have been instrumental in educating clinicians, hearing aid users and the general public about the benefits of hearing loops.
Holmes A, Chase N. 1985. Listening ability with a telephone adapter. Hearing Instruments, 36:16-17.
Kirkwood, DH. 2005. When it Comes to Hearing Aids, More was the Story in ‘04. The Hearing Journal, 58(5):33.
Kirkwood, DH. 2009. Despite Challenging Economic Conditions, Practitioners in Survey Remain Upbeat. The Hearing Journal, 62(4): 28,30-31.
Picou E, Ricketts T. 2013. Efficacy of Hearing-Aid Based Telephone Strategies for Listeners with Moderate-to-Severe Hearing Loss. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 24:59-70.