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Have you heard?

High-tech devices bring hope to the hard of hearing.

Story by Dean Rowland

You may have heard the new technology in audiology staggers the imagination. Or maybe

you haven’t heard, or maybe you can’t hear very well at all.

Does this sound familiar? “Usually friends tell them that they’re asking them to repeat themselves quite a bit, so friends and family notice it sooner than the patient,” said Dr. Tracy Brande, an audiologist at Hilton Head ENT & Sinus Center. “It tends to be gradual, so they don’t realize what they’re missing because their brain thinks that’s normal. And they might have trouble with background noise.”

Dr. Debi Lynes, owner of Lynes on Design on the island and a counselor, can relate to that symptom.

“I honestly didn’t know I had symptoms, but I felt like when I went to a movie or was watching TV, I would often times struggle for clarity of what I was hearing,” said the 64-year-old Lynes. “I felt like I heard OK, but sometimes I would be like, ‘what just happened?’

“I’m a psychologist, and I listen to people all day, and especially with adolescents, they tend to talk really low with their heads down,’ she added. “I found that I was leaning in so close that I could sense them thinking, ‘Give me my 18 inches of personal space.’ ”

A year ago, Lynes scheduled a routine hearing test, and was told she most likely would need hearing aids within five years.

She decided to be proactive and ordered a pair of high-end, high-tech hearing aids for $6,000. She said it has comfortably enhanced her lifestyle.

“It’s improved my communication with my nine grandkids, because I can hear the damn kids, and I hear with clarity,” she said. “It has vastly improved my life.”

She has a hearing control app for her iPhone called TruLink, and she can directly stream phone calls and music with pristine sound quality and no background buzzing or whistling.

“The direction that hearing aids have been going in are made for iPhones, some Androids, where you can stream your phone directly into your hearing aid,” Brande said. “That helps with cellphone calls, but it allows you to turn your phone into a remote microphone, and that would be good for a meeting. Somebody could put their phone next to the speakers and have it streamed to them.”

Hearing aids and other assistive listening devices have come a long way since the first rudimentary attempts at improving hearing.

That’s another benefit for Lynes who said she attends a lot of professional conferences.

“I would struggle,” she said. “I can now put my phone up there and turn it on the microphone, and it will activate a microphone in my ears and, additionally, it will tap in and transpose it on my computer. It’s pretty groovy.”

The nearly undetectable hearing aid device itself wraps around the top of the ear. It’s attached to an ultra-thin wire with a custom-sized chip that serves as the speaker, which is inserted into the ear canal.

“The app on your phone allows you to use your phone as a remote control for the hearing aid,” Brande said.

Today’s hearing aids are color matched to hair color to mask their appearance in public.

“Unless you’re bald, you really don’t see it,” Brande said. “If someone is looking at you directly from behind, they might be able to see a little bit of it.”

She said the industry’s technology makes advances every two years, as research and development keeps delivering “newer, better, faster computer chips.”

Brande added the best part of her job as an audiologist is when one of her clients has severe hearing loss, gets fitted for an aid, and their hearing dramatically improves.

“Their faces light up,” she said. “It makes you feel really good, like you’re doing something really valuable.”