Dr. Daniel R. Schumaier
President, Ear Technology Corporation
The president of Ear Technology Corporation shares the benefits in technological innovation for hearing loss patients and how tech can help your loved one.
How has hearing loss impacted the elderly?
For some time, researchers have known that hearing loss leads to increased social isolation and withdrawal as individuals find it easier to stay home rather than attempt to interact with others in noisy or difficult environments. Recent research has shown a link between untreated hearing loss and other health issues, including dementia and Alzheimer’s, and an increased risk of falls and hospitalization.
How has technology and innovation allowed you to help seniors with hearing loss?
I started a hearing aid dispensing practice in the early 1970s and was one of the first audiologists in the country to extend my practice beyond hearing diagnostics to the actual dispensing of hearing aid products. In my practice, I saw first-hand how moisture was wreaking havoc in my patients’ hearing aids, creating performance issues and in some cases even causing them to fail altogether. Patients were frustrated by poor hearing aid performance, and I was just as frustrated by the lack of an effective remedy. So, I decided to do something about it. The result was the creation of a new category of products to dry the hearing aids and provide sanitization and a proper place to store them. Over a period of several years I developed the technology, was awarded several patents, built and tested several prototypes, and then in 1997, began manufacturing and distributing the Dry & Store® hearing aid conditioning system. Since that time, hundreds of thousands of hearing aid users have benefited from Dry & Store’s unique process, resulting in fewer repairs, better sound quality, and relief from itchy, irritated ears.
In 2003, I turned my attention to hearing devices due to ongoing concerns from customers who were suffering from single-sided deafness (SSD). Not seeing solutions available to help these individuals, I invented TransEar®, a patented innovation specifically designed for those dealing with SSD that relies on bone conduction to transmit sound instead of mere amplification.
In 2014, I designed and patented a new approach to the programming and fitting of hearing aids with my company, Ear Technology Corporation, called ClikFIT®. ClikFIT® programming for hearing aids allows instant fitting capability for devices without the need for cables, computers, or special programming software. That same year, Tweak® brand personal amplifier products first appeared, taking advantage of ClikFIT® programming, designed to be simple enough for consumers to program hearing instruments that are purchased online or over the counter. Combined with ground-breaking affordability, the Tweak® products were an instant hit.
How can caregivers help their aging loved ones maintain their ability to communicate with technology?
Even with training and practice, people with hearing devices may need professional guidance to use the technologies that are available most effectively, as well as help in developing communication strategies. Hearing technologies are sophisticated, with great sound quality and ability to be changed for different listening situations, such as quiet, noisy situations, or listening to the TV.
Streaming capabilities represent a recent advance. Most major hearing aid manufacturers have made-for-smartphone hearing aids where the sound — whether a phone call or music you’re listening to — streams from the phone or any Bluetooth-enabled device directly to the hearing aids.
Those with hearing loss can implement a variety of devices around the home, too, including strobe lights attached to fire and smoke detectors to compensate for the high-pitched sounds some are not able to hear. There are alarms that flash lights or vibrate your pillow to wake you in the morning. There are TV audio systems that permit listening to TV at whatever volume level is needed while leaving the TV at normal sound level for loved ones in the room.
There are also affordable, high-performance hearing devices on the market that permit those with mild or moderate hearing loss to realize the benefits of amplification at a fraction of the cost of traditional hearing aids. These are typically over-the-counter products, where the user makes the purchase in-store or online and then sets up the device for themselves.
Regardless of which type of hearing solution the individual chooses, the regular use of a drying appliance will dramatically extend the life of the product and increase its performance during use. Moisture is the enemy of small electronics and making a point to remove that moisture at the end of each day reduces the need for repair by 67 percent. Placing the hearing products in a hearing aid dryer each night offers another benefit: It ensures that they are less likely to be misplaced or used as a toy by pets or small children in the house.
Most of all, encourage your loved one to get help with their hearing. There are numerous technologies available that will dramatically improve the quality of life for all concerned. Whether traditional hearing aids, over-the-counter solutions, or options like TV listening systems, the benefit to your loved one will be immense, both in everyday life and in the mitigation of future health issues.