If you’re among the 48 million Americans with hearing loss, you can take heart in knowing that advances in technology continue to make it easier for the hard of hearing to fully participate in everyday activities like phone calls and group conversations. A wide range of assistive hearing applications are available—many of them free of charge. The first step, however, is diagnosing hearing problems, which doesn’t always happen as it should.
Seniors make up a large portion of the hard-of-hearing community. In fact, the Center for Hearing and Communication reports that one in three people over 65 – and two out of three people over 75 – have some type of hearing loss.
Because hearing is so essential to communication and connection to others, hearing loss has far-reaching impacts on people. Left untreated, hearing loss can affect relationships, education, employment opportunities and independence. It can also lead to frustration, depression and even withdrawal.
Hearing loss may also increase the risk of cognitive decline, according to the AARP. This is likely due to social isolation which often limits cognitively stimulating activities. There’s also an overload of brain circuitry that has to compensate for hearing loss, as well as atrophying in the brain due to reduced sound stimulation. Essentially, there’s a link between untreated hearing loss and dementia.
Most types of hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids, and cochlear implants may also help in certain situations. However, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication, only 16% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss, and people wait an average of seven years before asking for help with hearing loss—and 15 million people with hearing loss avoid seeking help.
Seeking help with hearing loss is the first step to avoiding negative consequences. A family doctor can conduct a basic screening, while an audiologist can do a more thorough exam.
Assistive hearing applications
Once a professional diagnoses hearing loss and prescribes treatments, it’s a good idea to make use of technology wherever possible to help seniors interact with the world around them. Applications that run on smartphones offer a convenient way to assist those with hearing loss.
Ava is a real-time transcription tool that enables the user to instantly transcribe speech. This is particularly useful in groups of people, where lip reading can be difficult. Available for iPhones and Androids, it also works with online meetings.
This Android application provides real-time speech-to-text transcription in 80 different languages.
This speech-to-text application for iPhones is much like Google Live Transcribe.
HeardThat separates speech from background noise, so the user hears conversations more clearly. It uses artificial intelligence to differentiate between noise and speech. It’s available for iPhones and Androids.
Otter.ai is another speech-to-text application for iPhones and Androids that focuses on meetings. The application transcribes online meetings through Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other platforms with multiple speakers so the user can understand what everyone is saying. An automatic summary of the meeting makes sure everyone is on the same page.
InnoCaption allows deaf and hard-of-hearing people to make phone calls. It captions calls in real time using either a live stenographer or automated speech recognition technology. InnoCaption is offered free of charge to the deaf and hard of hearing in the United States through funding from the Federal Communications Commission.
Great for those who prefer not to install an application, Web Captioner works right from your computer’s browser and provides speech-to-text transcription in multiple languages. Users simply need their computers and a microphone or other audio device. It’s also free of charge.
Chatable for iPhones and Androids erases background noise so the user can better process speech.
Sound Alert for iPhones notifies users of important sounds around the house they might otherwise miss. Users can set the application to detect certain sounds, such as alarms, doorbells, microwave timers, smoke detectors and more. Users can set the alerts to vibrations or visual notifications like flashing lights.
TapSOS for iPhones enables users to communicate nonverbally with emergency responders to get the best possible care. Users fill out a profile with their medical history, and the application sends the information to local emergency services, along with the user’s location.
This Android application can alter the quality of sounds in an environment, allowing users to turn up quieter sounds and turn down distracting background sounds. This works only with wired headphones.
SoundPrint for Androids and iPhones helps those who are hard of hearing find quiet places to socialize. The decibel reader measures venues’ sound levels so users can choose “quiet” and “moderate” places to socialize—and so they won’t feel left out of conversations. This is also a good application for those who simply want to protect their hearing and not be exposed to high decibel levels.
Work with your loved one and experiment with different applications to find the one that works best for them. Seniors should discuss their hearing loss issues with doctors, as well as others who may be experiencing the same problems, and work to find solutions that help them connect to the world around them.