About one-third of Americans 64 and older suffer from hearing loss, and more than half of those 85-plus do as well. That amounts to millions of older individuals struggling with the frustrations and disappointments of hearing loss every day.
Whether talking with a friend or loved one on the phone, listening to announcements in a public space, or simply watching a movie, the effects of hearing loss are profound. Many seniors with hearing loss become embarrassed by their limitation and withdraw from social interaction, which can cause loneliness and depression.
Leading The Way
At one assisted living community in Massachusetts, officials have been working on changing that for residents and guests.
In June, EPOCH Assisted Living at Boylston Place in Chestnut Hill became the first such community in the state to install a technology growing rapidly in popularity: a hearing loop.
The hearing loop system involves a copper wire, called a loop, installed around the perimeter of a room.
EPOCH has installed the loop in its cinema room, where guest speakers, performers, and others entertain residents and guests. Residents with hearing aids enter the space and simply push a button on their own hearing device to pick up the loop’s signal. Their hearing aid becomes a wireless, convenient, and personal amplification device, allowing them to hear clearly.
The hearing loop is found across Europe and is just starting to gain popularity in the United States. In Europe, it is used in public places of all types, from churches to airports to museums. When Julie Bolt, director of marketing at EPOCH Assisted Living at Boylston Place, first heard of the system, she thought it would be a great way to help residents with hearing loss regain some of their independence.
“One gentleman was having a particularly hard time because he not only was hard of hearing, but he was losing his eyesight as well,” Bolt says. “The hearing loop let him become more integrated and engaged.”
Life Enrichment Director Brizida Koci agreed. “He said to me, ‘You gave me my hearing back,’” Koci says.
“One of the great things about this system is that it’s private, it’s innocuous,” Bolt says.
“As a private organization, we’re not required to be ADA [American’s with Disabilities Act] compliant, but wewant to take the initiative because we have multiple residents who benefitfrom it.”
EPOCH uses the system regularly when performers and speakers visit the community, and when screening films. The majority of those who use a hearing aid—about 80 percent—use the type of hearing aid that connects to the loop with the push of a button. Those who do not have a loop-compatible hearing aid are able to install the piece of equipment
needed directly into their hearing aid in order to make it compatible. A headset can also be used by residents who do not have a hearing aid.
Gilbert Chudnow, a resident at EPOCH Assisted Living at Boylston Place, has used his hearing aid and the loop system several times and had high praise for it.
“It’s relieving,” he says. “For the first time, I can enjoy watching a movie because I can hear it without distraction. When you’re hard of hearing, thereare side things going on and you have to concentrate so hard. Now I canrelax.”
Further Implementation Planned
Encouraged by the success and popularity of the system, EPOCH officials plan to eventually broaden it to other spaces in the community. They also hope to add additional microphones to the system so multiple speakers and performers can be heard using the loop.
Kristine Tilton, executive director at EPOCH Assisted Living at Boylston Place, says she is excited and proud to be the first senior living community in the state of Massachusetts to offer the hearing loop system to residents and guests.
“Their faces just lit up,” Tilton says. “Many of them have a very hard time hearing speakers, and this new system lets them enjoy events and interact as well.”
According to HearingLoop.org, this logo incorporates, with the permission of the National Association of the Deaf, the universal symbol for hearing assistance.
Explanatory text was added to the logo along with a “T,” which signifies an available telecoil-compatible system.
When placed at entrances, the sign informs people that the venue is looped. It also serves as publicity for loop systems and the usefulness of telecoils—thus serving to promote both, the website notes.