Can You Hear Me Now? Bluetooth technology hits the hearing aid market

Today's businesses depend on information technology to keep things in order and running smoothly. Whether it's computers, fax machines, or cell phones, staying in business means staying on top of technology. Communication between you, your co-workers, your employees, or your customer needs to be accurate, convenient, and timely. Hearing impairment is an obstacle that hinders many business people and – surprisingly to many – often has nothing to do with age.

These days, hearing aids are becoming more commonly used by all age groups for various reasons. Sometimes hearing loss is hereditary. Sometimes it may be due to medical reasons. Sometimes it's due to noise exposure. Whatever the reason and whatever the age, hearing loss can be a limiting factor to some people's business success.

The building contractor out on a job sight needs to talk to the homebuyer about an unforeseen problem and needs an answer now or stop work for the day. The real estate agent needs to be sure of the exact amount of the offer his clients are willing to put in on a house. The head of the trade association needs to attend a convention or trade show where thousands are gathered in poor acoustical surroundings. They all use a cell phone; all three are hearing impaired, and they all wear hearing aids. Texting may be an option but can be cumbersome and limiting. Having someone else take the call is possible but adds a third party to the communication link. How about letting technology help out? Bluetooth wireless technology can now be accessed through many of today's modern digital hearing aids. And Bluetooth wireless technology is available in more than just cell phones. Laptop and desktop computers, home phones, televisions, stereos, and many new cars use Bluetooth technology to transmit audio information. So if you have to take a class on line, or listen to a Webinar to stay current, you can have the audio information sent directly into your hearing aids. Driving to your next sales call and need information from the home office? Dial in through your car's Bluetooth phone system and get your information hands free fed directly into both hearing aids.

Meetings are a fact of life in any business setting. Whether it's one on one or a presentation to the board, communication is key to understanding. Written agendas and handouts are helpful but not a substitute for the dynamic verbal exchange. Direct discussion in a noisy environment is especially challenging for someone with hearing loss or hearing aids. Understanding one voice from another can be difficult when multiple people are speaking. Increasing the voice you want to hear above the other extraneous voices is possible if using an FM wireless microphone system. This type of device can be coupled to hearing aids or run through a Bluetooth steamer. Though far from perfect, Bluetooth and FM technology coupled to today's modern hearing aids allow hearing impaired people in all facets of business to more fully participate and be more productive.

So what prevents some people from accessing these forms of hearing technology? Cosmetics? Cost? Too complicated? Take a look at what's out there and you may be pleasantly surprised. Many of today's hearing aids are very discreet. Some Bluetooth streamers and FM systems may be more noticeable, but the benefits hopefully far outweigh concerns about appearance. Costs can vary for Bluetooth streaming devices, but generally will add $100 to $300 to the cost of hearing aids. FM systems can add another $1800 to $2800. Some employers are willing to share the cost burden if they see productivity may increase. Some people may also qualify for help through the State's office of Rehabilitative Services. Your hearing care provider should be able to guide you to possible financial resources. Technology doesn't have to be intimidating. A little patience and a willingness to learn can open up all kinds of avenues leading to success in any business.

Dr. Paul Hanrahan has been an audiologist at Munson Medical Center's William and Leni Carls Hearing Clinic for 26 years. 231-935-6455,