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Can You Hear Me Now?

Sometimes being heard starts with persuading loved ones to have their hearing checked.

Jimmy Magahern | May 3, 2012, 2:34 p.m.

In a fourth-season episode of Seinfeld, a wheelchair salesman tries out a comically over-enthusiastic sales pitch on George and Kramer, entrusted with purchasing a wheelchair to replace one they were inadvertently responsible for destroying.

“It’s the Rolls Royce of wheelchairs,” says the smiling salesman, demonstrating the “inductive joystick, dynamic braking, flip-up arms” on the “fully loaded” model he claims to have sold to Stephen Hawking two months ago. “This is like, you’re almost glad to be handicapped!”

Talk to a few hearing aid salespeople today, and you’re likely to come away with the feeling you’re almost glad to have hearing loss.

“We have hearing aids today that have multiple programs in them, where, depending upon the person’s needs, we can design one program for quiet, one program for restaurants, and one to hear better on the telephone,” says Dr. Robert Scharber, a practicing audiologist for more than 30 years who owns East Valley Hearing Center. He is also chairman of the Speech and Hearing Professionals Advisory Committee, a group of audiologists and hearing aid dealers that advises the Arizona Department of Health Services on hearing and audiology-related topics.

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Dr. Robert Scharber has practiced audiology for more than 30 years. He says patients almost always come to him initially at the suggestion of a frustrated spouse.

“And now there’s kind of a new development moving across the country called looping,” says Scharber, “where major venues will have shows where all the people on stage are miked and their voices go to a device offstage, and if you have a telecoil in your hearing aid, you can pick them up as though you’re standing right next to them. Europe has been doing this for years, and the U.S. is just catching up to this.”

Sounds like a benefit any high-end audiophile would be envious of — and indeed, Scharber says people outside the hearing-impaired community have been lining up to take advantage of the new technology.

“In fact, there are some places you can go where you can pick up a device, even if you’re not hearing impaired, and be able to hear the performance better,” he says. “So you don’t necessarily have to use a hearing aid to use a loop system. Very cool!”

It gets better, says Robert Hutchcraft, owner of New Hope Center for Hearing, which maintains offices in Tucson and Phoenix.

“We’re right around the corner from having a cell phone in your hearing aid system, as well as GPS and satellite radio,” Hutchcraft continues. “You won’t have hearing loss at all, plus you’ll have satellite radio through your hearing aid, and GPS. Right in your ear, it’ll tell you exactly where to go.”

Hutchcraft, a third-generation hearing aid salesman, remembers the days of his grandfather, when hearing aids amounted to a bulky box the user had to carry around.

“It really has evolved so much,” he says. “I mean, truthfully, it won’t be too long before you’ll buy your cell phone in the shape of a hearing aid, regardless of your hearing condition, and it’ll be custom-fitted into your ear. And maybe five or 10 years down the road, when you discover you do have hearing loss, you’ll just go in and adjust the frequency response to overcome your hearing loss. And it’ll just be a technological adjustment.”

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