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It's so interesting that you posted this now.  My mother just yesterday picked up her new digital hearing aids; she's starting a two-month trial, but is already so impressed that I can't imagine she'll give them back.

She's got Oticon Epoq devices, with the Bluetooth-enabled streaming gizmo that allows her to route cellphone calls (and an MP3 player, if she had one) directly through her hearing aids.  I've watched her take several phone calls, and the difference is amazing.  No more shouting or feedback or asking for endless repetitions.  (One thing she used to do a lot was put calls on speakerphone so that her partner or I could tell her what the person on the other end of the line was saying.)

The two devices communicate with each other, so it allows her to locate sounds a lot better than she could with her 10-year-old analog hearing aids.

She's also doing exactly what you describe -- speaking in a much quieter voice than normal, which has (interestingly) revealed that my stepfather's hearing is not quite as good as he thought.  (I knew that already.)

I really can't quite believe the difference.  I was testing her in the car yesterday; she can hear me speak in practically a whisper, even over the sound of the engine, when before I'd have had to shout myself hoarse to have a conversation with her in the car.  She didn't do so well with the radio on (i.e. conversation-range background noise), but still, it's huge.  Huge.

We'd been pestering her for a while to get new hearing aids.  The old ones didn't really help much and had several layers of frustration attached; she even used to complain sometimes that she couldn't hear us "because my hearing aids are clogging up my ears."  She's been talking with the audiologist about the new digital devices for a while now, but she didn't have much hope that it would really help, since her history with hearing aids has been rather poor.  But wow!  These things are amazing.

The price tag is still shocking:  over $5000.  I had no idea until yesterday that neither insurance nor Medicaid will pay for them, as mentioned above.  (Good old USA healthcare system.... grrrr.)  She does get to write them off on her taxes as an "un-reimbursed medical expense," but still, it's a huge chunk of change, and she's on a fixed income.  And a tax writeoff wouldn't help a truly poor person pay for hearing aids like that....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 10:46:57 AM EST

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