How Hearing Aid Apps Make Life Easier!

All about hearing aid apps

We get a LOT of questions about hearing aid apps. And we love that! If you are curious about the benefit of apps and how they can benefit your lifestyle, Audiologist Christine Stangeland explains how it all works!

In this presentation, Christine talks about:

  • Streaming audio to your hearing aids
  • How to connect your hearing aids to your cell phone/tablet
  • Using hearing aid apps
  • Benefits of using Bluetooth apps with your hearing aids
  • Troubleshooting Bluetooth connections


Bluetooth® explained

We're going to walk through some of the most common hearing aids and phones and just kind of review how those can get connected together. So, I've got some really great screenshots to share with you guys. So, this will be a good reference for the future if you get a new phone and you're not sure how to set it up. And then we'll talk a little bit more about why, why do we even want our hearing aids connected to our cell phones? And then just some basic troubleshooting tips, because we do a lot of that with Bluetooth these days as well.

So, what is Bluetooth? Bluetooth is just a type of wireless communication from one device to another device. So, in this instance, we could think of it as just a wireless communication between our hearing aids and our cell phone. When we're talking about Bluetooth and connecting devices together, that process is called pairing.

If you ever hear somebody talk about, "Oh, you need to pair your hearing aids to your phone or put them in pairing mode," that's talking about Bluetooth and just allowing those devices to then find each other and join together wirelessly. We're not going to dive too much into the nitty-gritty technical stuff of Bluetooth today, but there are different types of Bluetooth and this is going to be relevant later on. So, we have Bluetooth Classic, there's also Bluetooth Low Energy. Some of our hearing aids are using Made for iPhone Bluetooth. And we also have the ASHA protocol, Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids. So, all of these are Bluetooth, but they have subtle differences. The great thing about Bluetooth and utilizing a Bluetooth connection with your cell phone or with your tablet, you don't need internet. A lot of my patients come in saying, "Oh, but I don't have a data plan." Or, "I don't have my phone connected to the internet." This is internet-free for the most part and we'll touch on that. Generally speaking, you do not need the internet to connect these devices together. So, that's really awesome.

The benefits of pairing hearing aids to your cell phone or tablet

So, what are some of the benefits of pairing our hearing aids to our cell phone or to our tablet? One of the biggest and best thing is that you can stream. And so, streaming is I guess, the technical language for sending an audio signal from one device into another listening device. You can stream audio from your cell phone right into your hearing aids. So, if you're somebody who really struggles hearing on a cell phone, trying to hold it up and find the right position with your hearing aids, having this streaming allows the audio signal to go directly into both hearing aids. So, we know we're going to get improved word understanding if we're utilizing two ears versus one ear. But the great thing about the audio being streamed through your hearing aids as well is that the sound quality of the audio signal is then being corrected.

Your hearing loss is being corrected and accounted for by the hearing aids. So, you're going to hear things better than you would just trying to hold the phone up to your hearing aid and then allowing your hearing aid microphone to pick up that sound and then amplify it for you. So, we can stream all kinds of audio. Basically, anything you can play from your phone, you can play through your hearing aids, whether it's music, podcasts, audio books, FaceTiming with your fans or family, watching YouTube videos, phone call audio. Basically, any sounds that you want to hear from your phone or your tablet, you can hear through your hearing aids.

How to pair your hearing aids

So, how to pair your hearing aids and your cell phone. This is where things get a little complicated, so bear with me. This is going to depend, number one on the kind of hearing aids you have and what kind of Bluetooth you're using, and also the kind of cell phone or tablet that you're using. If you are ever unsure, the best thing you can do is just consult with a hearing aid user manual. Another really great resource is just checking the hearing aid manufacturer's website, they should have written instructions on their website. Many hearing aid manufacturers actually also have YouTube channels as well, walking you through all sorts of things that you can troubleshoot. This instance, we're discussing Bluetooth, but lots of our manufacturers have great troubleshooting videos for changing wax filters and all that great stuff as well. They're a really good resource.

I did compile a list of links to some of these websites as well - just as a quick and easy guide for you to find some of these things and maybe then bookmark them.

So, ultimately different hearing aids are going to pair differently. Apple devices are going to pair differently to Android devices, because they are using different Bluetooth protocols. So, our first step is to check that your hearing aids and your phone or tablet are compatible. So, if you don't already know, if you haven't talked to your audiologist about whether your hearing aids are compatible with your cell phone, you can always go on to the hearing aid manufacturer's website, and they'll have a list where you can see which phones or tablets are compatible with the hearing aids that you have.

Before investing in a new smartphone...

So, let's say you're thinking of upgrading and if you're like me and your cellphone's getting on the older side and you're thinking of upgrading, maybe you want to go and make sure like, "Oh, is that iPhone 13 compatible with my hearing aids?" Or, "Is that latest Samsung Galaxy phone compatible with my hearing aids?" So, they should have a drop down list and it should let you know if things are compatible. So, that's a great thing to check before you do invest in new technology if you're hoping to utilize that Bluetooth connection with your hearing aids.

Pairing Phonak / Unitron hearing aids with Apple products

So, first, we're just going to talk about pairing Phonak and Unitron hearing aids with Apple products. So, a lot of what I'm going to say is going to be repeated with other manufacturers, other hearing aid manufacturers and other cell phone or tablet manufacturers. There's ultimately just very basic steps we want to take with all of these devices. The first thing is we want all of our devices to be fully charged or have a good charge. If you're on 2%... Bluetooth does take a lot of energy. It takes about three times the energy and just compared to regular hearing aids if you're streaming. So, we do want to have a good battery charge. What we're going to do then is we need to put the hearing aids into pairing mode. So, these days, our new hearing aids, all of them automatically will be in Bluetooth pairing mode for the first two to three minutes that they're turned on.

So, all we have to do is restart the hearing aids. So, that means if you have a hearing aid that has a battery compartment, open and close your battery compartment to restart the hearing aids, or if you have rechargeable hearing aids, you can put them into the charger and then give them a couple of seconds and take them out of the charger to turn the hearing aids on again. If for some reason you're trying to pairing your charger is not handy and you do have rechargeable hearing aids, almost all rechargeable hearing aids, you're going to push and hold on either the lower rocker button or the button that's on the hearing aid, and you're going to push for around four seconds, and the hearing aid will turn off. If the hearing aid has a light, often it'll flash yellow or red letting you know it turned off, wait a few seconds, push and hold the button again. And if the hearing aid is the kind that does have a light built into it, you'll see a green light and it's turned back on.

So, once our hearing aids are turned on freshly and they're in pairing mode, where do we need to go in our phone? So, I'm showing you just some examples here from an iPhone. So, what you're first going to do is you're going to go into settings and then we're going to go into the Bluetooth menu. We do need Bluetooth to be toggled on because we need to use that Bluetooth to talk between the phone and the hearing aids. For a Phonak or a Unitron hearing aid, it should pop up here under other devices. In this instance, I was pairing my own hearing aids to make these example screenshots, so I have labeled it Christine.

However, for the large majority of you, if you have a Phonak or Unitron hearing aid, it's not going to say R-Christine, it's going to say R-Phonak hearing aid or R-Unitron hearing aid. So, once that shows up, you're just going to go ahead and tap on that and a couple of seconds later, it should say connected and you are good to go for audio streaming. It's that simple. If for some reason that fails, we'll talk more about troubleshooting later, but ultimately that's all you need to do. Just a few easy steps, navigate yourself to settings, Bluetooth, restart the hearing aid, it should show up and then just tap on it.

Something that is important to know about Phonak and Unitron hearing aids is they are using Bluetooth Classic. To my knowledge, they're the only manufacturer utilizing Bluetooth Classic technology. So, on this previous slide where you saw that my hearing aid showed up and it had an R in front of it, that R was indicating it's the right hearing aid. So, you might be thinking, "Christine, why only the right hearing aid? There's two hearing aids. You have two hearing aids. Where's the left hearing aid? Phonak and Unitron are doing something quite unique. So, they are having a connection from the cell phone into the right hearing aid or the Bluetooth hearing aid. And then that hearing aid kind of gets looped in through proprietary magic basically. So, it's kind of the phone to the one ear and the one ear in the other ear. So, it's correct that we are only connecting one hearing aid in this instance. So, I know that often gets asked a lot. They're like, "Where is my other hearing aid?" It will work, just trust the technology.

So, here's just another example of seeing some of those connections. And we're going to talk a little bit later too about why we might use some apps. With Phonak and Unitron, if we are going to utilize their apps with the hearing aids, the apps are using Low Energy Bluetooth. So, we're using different Bluetooth for the app than we are for audio streaming. So, if you have connected your hearing aids to your cell phone for audio streaming as well as for app use, when you head into that Bluetooth menu, it's actually going to look like you have three hearing aids now. So, we have our right hearing aid for audio streaming, but then we have two hearing aids, our Low Energy, LE, Low Energy left hearing aid and our Low Energy right hearing aid connection for using the app. Almost always, if you go into this screen, you're going to see that they say not connected, and that is okay.

The only time those Low Energy connections between the app and the hearing aids are going to activate is when you're actively using the app. And as you know, on your cell phone, you can't see multiple things at a time like you can on the computer. You're really only looking at the app or you're looking at your Bluetooth screen. So, if those say not connected, that is okay. For the most part, just ignore them. Just know that it is okay that it looks like we have three hearing aids. The one that does not have the LE for Low Energy is our audio signal, and that's the one you're going to want to pay attention to if we need to do any troubleshooting.

Pairing Phonak or Unitron hearing aids with Android products

If say we were pairing our Phonak or our Unitron hearing aids to an Android product, very similar process, the screens just look different. So, again, we're going to go into our settings menu and then we're going to go into connections. And again, we're going to want to make sure that Bluetooth is turned on. And if you click on Bluetooth, that's again going to bring us into a menu where you are going to have to hit scan. I'm assuming we've rebooted our hearing aids already, that they're already in pairing mode by the time we've gone into settings, connections, Bluetooth, hit scan and again, your hearing aid should just pop up. You're going to click on it. The phone is going to pop up a little request asking, do you want to connect to this hearing aid? Do you want to pair to the hearing aid? Yes, we're going to hit pair and away we go, you should be connected and that's your audio connection.

So, pairing, pretty well all other hearing aid manufacturers, they're using mostly Made for iPhone or that ASHA protocol. So, these are going to be a little bit different and actually less intuitive to connect if you're not super familiar with them. So, if you've got Oticon hearing aids or Widex hearing aids, Starkey hearing aids, Signia hearing aids and we're pairing to an Apple product, that's what we're covering next. So, again, kind of the same basic setup, ensure your hearing aids are turned on and well charged, ensure your phone is turned on or your tablets turned on and well charged. Same thing, restart the hearing aids to put them in Bluetooth pairing mode. On an iPhone, where we're going to head is into settings, but this time we're heading into accessibility. This is probably a place where a lot of you haven't spent a lot of time on your phone, but we're heading into accessibility.

And you will likely have to scroll down a bit, but then we're going to look for hearing devices. Once we've gone into hearing devices, it should show up. If your name's William, it's going to say William's hearing aids. And then it's actually going to display which hearing aids they are too. So, in this instance, it's found William's open, Oticon hearing aids. You're going to click on them and once you click on them, again, we're going to just receive this pairing request, do you want to pair? The answer is yes, hit pair. If you have two hearing aids, it'll probably ask you to pair again right after you've hit pair and that's okay. And then everything should be nice and connected. So, now we're connected for audio streaming.

Pairing Apple products to MFI hearing aids (Oticon, Widex, Starkey, and Signia)

If we're pairing to an Android product that's using that ASHA protocol with basically any of our other manufacturers, Oticon, Widex, Starkey or Signia, there can be a little bit of variability here. Sometimes they're going to want you to pair directly through the hearing aid apps. You'll already have to have the hearing aid app installed, but some you can just pair directly through the Bluetooth menu. So, this is just an example to show you using Widex hearing aids. In this instance, they did want us to have the app installed already and you just follow the prompts, basically get started. It's asking you, "Do you have batteries in your hearing aids or are they rechargeable?" If they're rechargeable, take them out of the charger and put them in pairing mode. Again, it should just automatically find them after a couple of seconds. It's going to pop up that Bluetooth pairing request, you're going to hit pair and success.

So, in almost all instances, the real take-home message with all of these connections is generally just follow the prompts, turn things off and on, and just find out where in the phone you need to look to establish this connection. It can be really intimidating at first when everybody's phones are different, things are hidden in different places, but it really is easy. And there's really not a whole lot you can do to... You can't mess up your hearing aids if you somehow mess up, for lack of a better term, the pairing to the phone. So, just feel really empowered to try it yourself and build that confidence. And if not, you can always again, watch this video for help, call the clinic for help, drop in for help or check out manufacturer website, manufacturing YouTube videos. There's so many great resources on the internet we have these days to help with these things.

If we were pairing, again using those ASHA hearing aids, so Oticon, Widex, Starkeys, Signia but pairing to an Android product, similar to what we saw before. Just as an example, heading into settings, heading into that connections, we're going into Bluetooth, the hearing aids should show up. In this instance, we did need to find two hearing aids. Again, you're going to click on them and it's going to pop up that request to pair, you're going to hit pair. And things should say connected and everything should be good.

Streaming audio

So, now that the hearing aids are paired, I did talk about this at the beginning, you can listen to all audio from your phone or tablet through your hearing aids, phone calls, music, podcasts, videos, you name it, it'll play through your hearing aids. In an ideal world, this will just happen automatically all the time. Anytime you go to play your favorite song, it should just start playing directly into your hearing aids. If you're calling your mom to say hi, it should just automatically start playing into your hearing aids. If that's something you don't want, you can always delete your hearing aids from your phone so that you no longer have that connection, or you can temporarily disconnect them as well.

Disconnecting audio streaming Apple products

So, as an example, being a hearing aid wearer myself and I do have my hearing aids connected to my cell phone. When I come into work, I do disconnect my hearing aids from my cell phone, because I don't want to accidentally hear a phone call going into my hearing aids or a text message going into my hearing aids when I'm in the middle of helping one of our patients. So, this is again, an easy thing to do and once you understand that you can do that, I think you'll get along just fine with the hearing aids and using them with your phone. So, this is an example of disconnecting hearing aids in an Apple product. Again, I was using my hearing aids for this example. I do have Phonak hearing aids, so we're using that Phonak or Unitron protocol. So, we've gone into settings and you we've gone into Bluetooth.

Disconnecting Android products

If my hearing aids said connected, what I want to do is tap on that little eye, hit disconnect, and then it should say not connected. I put those on the wrong order, I'm so sorry. Same thing works in the reverse order. If it was the end of the day and my hearing aids were disconnected from my phone and I wanted to reconnect, come back in and just click on the hearing aid. You don't even have to hit that little eye, just tap on it and it should reconnect for us. Very similar process for disconnecting from an Android product. We've gone into Bluetooth, in this instance, we've hit that little settings cog for the hearing aid connection, and you can see there's just nice little button down here called disconnect.

Changing Audio Routing during a phone call

You're going to click on that and it's going to stop sending sound into your hearing aids. The cool thing here too is in the Android product, it does allow you to decide if you want that separate control over phone call audio versus all other audio. So, maybe you did only want your hearing aids to play phone calls, but if you didn't want, for whatever reason, mute like a music or a YouTube video is playing out loud, you can disable other audio. So, you do have some choices. And again, there's a lot of variability with what you can control in the phone, but don't be afraid to have a look in your phone and see what you can do in there. Something a lot of my patients do worry about, or they ask about during an appointment is they're like, "Okay, well, I'm making a phone call and now I'm on the phone with my son or daughter, but I want my partner to hear it as well. How do I put it on speaker mode? How do I disconnect from my hearing aid so that somebody else can hear too?"

So, when you are actively making a phone call, and this is again, just a screenshot from my iPhone, there's this audio button. So, this is already giving me a clue. I can see this little Bluetooth logo, that funny, looks like a B, I'm not sure where they were going with... What their inspiration for that was, but to me it kind of looks like a capital B, so I know that's Bluetooth. So, I can see that the audio is already routing through my hearing aids, but if I wanted to change it, I can just click on that. And now, it's going to give me the option of either selecting to play it through my iPhone speaker like normal so that I would just have to hold the phone up like normal to hear and to talk.

I then also have the option of speaker phone if I wanted somebody who was also with me to hear, and we could both hear at the same time, or I could keep in my hearing aids. So, that's a nice, easy way to change that. And you can do that mid-phone call, like whenever you need. There's also the flexibility with the hearing aids to have the hearing aids always route phone call audio through your hearing aids or never route it through your hearing aids or the phone, I guess, to try to be smart and pick and choose. So, again, some people, they want to hear music, but they don't want to hear phone calls. So, if we had a Phonak or Unitron hearing aids and we wanted to change something like that, we're going to go into accessibility.

This is a funny one. I forget where this is every single time and it's hidden in touch. Once we're in touch, if you go to call audio routing, here's where we see the option for automatic routing, Bluetooth headset or speaker. So, the funny thing is by default, with iPhone, with Phonak or Unitron products, if we leave it on automatic, if you are the one receiving a phone call, if you answer the phone, just touching the answer button on your phone, the signal is just going to play through your phone. It's not actually going to default to your hearing aids. Phonak and Unitron are manufacturers that allow you to either do a double tap function on your hearing aid or push a button on your hearing aid to answer a phone call. So, if you had done that double tap or that push of that button, then it's going to default to playing it through your hearing aids.

Changing the audio setting:

But let's say for example, you're just not a fan of the double tap or the buttoning, you just want to touch on your phone and have it go into your hearing aids. We want to change this call audio setting. So, in that instance, we don't want automatic, we don't want the phone to pick based on how we answer the phone, we want it to default to a Bluetooth headset. And in this instance, our Bluetooth headset is our hearing aid, so that's what we're going to choose. There is the option, if for some reason you always wanted your phone to default, to being on speakerphone, that lives in here too. But for the majority of my patients, we will come into this setting and change it to default to Bluetooth headset. Streaming audio, you can change audio streaming settings in your phone settings as well. So, something we get asked a lot about as well is people will hear maybe notification sounds through their hearing aids or the volume of their notification sounds is too high.

Ringtone volume:

The volume of their ringtone playing into their hearing aids is too loud. Those things are actually not controlled by your Audiologist. So, it's nothing that we can program for you. That's all actually set by your phone. So, then it sometimes does take some exploring of your phone to find where these settings might be and which ones are going to manipulate what you are hoping to manipulate. So, just as an example in here, if you felt like the ringer... Because sometimes when your phone receives a phone call, it sometimes will play the ringtone through your hearing aids, depending on the manufacturer, and again, what you set up. But let's say the ringtone was going into your hearing aids and you were finding it too loud, in this instance, we went into settings and we went into sounds and haptics, and then here's where we can change our ringer volume. There's a lot of other things we can change here too, like what the ringtone is and how loud these things are.

Customizing notifications

Because the phone now will want to play a lot of these system sounds to you and some people don't like that, you'll want to turn some of these sounds off, so again, go into sounds and haptics. Another thing we often want to disable is keyboard clicks, so that way when you're texting on your phone, you're not just hearing click, click, click, click as you type out to everybody and turn off lock sounds as well. Some of these sounds, these keyboard clicks and these lock screen sounds can actually interfere with app use. So, once we have an app installed, we definitely want these disabled, just so we don't accidentally disrupt what the app is doing to our hearing aids.

Again, just another example of where you can try to customize some of those sounds going into your phone. This is an example with an iPhone. In this instance, we've gone into notifications. Let's say we have this fitness app installed, but we didn't want those notifications to play through our hearing aids, then we can go in here and we can either just turn off notifications in general if we don't care about having them, but there's also this option to turn off sound notifications for that app specifically. So, those aren't going to play through your hearing aids if you don't want to. This is again, just a general example. This could definitely apply to really any app you have installed on your phone. So, the possibilities are endless.

Same thing if we were trying to look at more of an Android platform, same thing, we're heading into notifications. In this instance, we're looking at a Google app and you can go ahead here and just hit see all, and then you've got the option to either allow all those notifications, or you can see each one has its own little toggle, we can turn those off or on individually. Just another example of turning off those keyboard sounds and Android. Again, I mentioned keyboard sounds in particular can interfere with hearing aid app functionality. So, we're going into settings, we're going into sounds and vibration, systems sound and vibration control. And here's where we can toggle off things like touch interactions, screen lock sounds, the sound that happens when you plug in your charging cord, dialling keyboard sounds, all that good stuff. So, if in doubt, a lot of these system sounds, it's better to have them disabled, turned off just to help reduce the chance of them interfering with our app functionality.

Just an example, again, with some of those hearing aids using the Made for iPhone protocol, so Oticon, Widex, Signia, Starkey. If we've gone into settings, we've gone into accessibility and now we're in hearing devices, and you can see we've got our hearing aids connected. But here's where you can also choose to either do you want the phone ringtone to play through your hearing aids or not? Toggle it on or toggle it off. Do you want to hear things like text message notifications coming into the hearing aids? Yes or no? You can toggle that on or toggle that off. We do have the audio routing option, so you can always go into that menu further to decide how sounds are going to get played, or if they're going to get routed to your hearing aids.

This is my favourite tip of all time

I use this all the time. If you can't find something or you're not quite sure where within all of these menus things are hidden, you can just search. So, it's kind of funny because when you normally... I know on my iPhone, when I go into settings, this search is kind of hidden. It doesn't actually show up at first, you have to pull down on the screen to see that little search menu and have it pop up, but the great thing is you can search for whatever in there. So, in this instance, I've just done the example of searching for hearing, thinking I was searching for my hearing aids, and then it's giving us a list of possible locations that we could be looking for. So, the great thing is if I was trying to connect some Made for iPhone hearing devices, now I already know this is where I want to go. I didn't have to go the complicated way. I can just click on here and it's going to automatically take me there then. So, this is a really helpful tool. I do believe Android has this search setting as well. I use it all the time when I'm setting up phones and tablets in the office with my patients.

Hearing aid Apps

So, switching gears a little bit and just talking about hearing aid apps and why we want them and how they work. So, the hearing aid apps are something that we download and install onto the phone, and they are, again using that Bluetooth connection between the phone and the hearing aids to allow us to make adjustments to the hearing aids. The apps are manufacturer-specific, so you do have to have your hearing aid manufacturers app installed on your phone. So, if you've got Phonak, you're going to download the Phonak app. If you've got Unitron, you're going to download the Unitron app and so on.

The great thing about these apps is they're free to download. They only take a couple of maybe 20 seconds to install on the phone at most. It's nice and easy. So, essentially what you're going to do is head into the, whether it's the App Store on an iPhone or Google Play Store or whatever kind of app downloading system your phone or tablet has, head in there and just search for your hearing aid manufacturer. And it should be one of the top, if not the top results that pops up when you search for your hearing aid manufacturer. And then it should just allow you to install. Like I said, it's free, you don't have to pay. Sometimes where I do get stuck with my patients who are using iPhones or iPads is that Apple will want you to enter your Apple ID password to allow the installation of the app. So, do make sure that you know your Apple ID password.

Pair your hearing aids to your App

So, again, pairing to each app is going to look slightly different between the manufacturers, but the overall steps are going to be very similar. Once the app is installed, just open it up and it's just going to walk you through the steps that you need to take. Almost all of the apps, they're going to have some sort of privacy notice that you just have to say yes and accept the terms of their privacy policy, otherwise you are not going to be able to connect to the app and utilize it. Often, most apps will pop up a request asking that they utilize Bluetooth and you do have to allow Bluetooth, because we're using a Bluetooth connection between your phone and the hearing aid. So, if you don't allow that, we're not going to get any further.

The benefits of hearing aid Apps

Some, not all, but some hearing aid manufacturer apps do have the ability to pseudo-track your hearing aid location. So, if that's something that you want to have, so just in case you ever did lose your hearing aids, you want to allow location services. I do encourage a lot of my patients to allow that, just so that if you did ever accidentally lose a hearing aid while you were out and about shopping, running errands throughout the day, you can go into the hearing aid app and then see where your hearing aid was last connected to your phone.

Pair your hearing aids to your App

Once you've done all this, if we need to put the hearing aids into pairing mode again to successfully connect, you're just going to need to restart the hearing aids. So, again, open and close the batteries or put them in the charger, take them out of the charger, they should be in Bluetooth pairing mode and the app should just do the rest of the work. So, what are some reasons that we actually might want to have the apps installed on our phone? They make it really easy these days just to get more functionality, more customization out of your hearing aids. So, probably the biggest and most common reason is it allows for you to adjust the volume of your hearing aids. So, once we have the app installed, I'm just going to click ahead for just a second, you can see most apps are... This is an example of Phonak's app, but they're going to have some sort of volume slider, whether it's up and down to indicate volume or going left or right. You're going to have a really easy way to adjust your volume.

The benefits of hearing aid Apps

And the great thing is the apps will typically show you your default volume as well, so you know exactly how much louder or how much softer you've adjusted your hearing aids compared to what your audiologist has programmed them to be at. So, this is nice because some of my patients previously, maybe they adjusted their hearing aids using the button on the hearing aids and then two hours later, they're like, "Oh, I don't remember, am I too loud or am I normal? Or am I too soft?" And they just don't remember, but they wanted typically try to be at the prescribed programmed volume from their audiologist. Having this app and having this visual can make it really straightforwards to see exactly where you are. Most apps allow you to mute to your hearing aids. Not that as your Audiologist, "I want you wearing your hearing aids muted most of the time."

Putting hearing aids on mute temporarily:

But the example I give to my patients is the only time I mute my hearing aids is if I'm at home and I'm making a smoothie and just using the blender for a minute or two. I'll quickly just mute my hearing aids, either using the button or the app, because in this instance, it's only a minute or two, it's not going to be such a long hazardous noise exposure that I need earplugs, but it's more comfortable have the hearing aids muted while the blender's going. So, that's an example of when you might want to mute your hearing aids. We can change programs using the app as well. So, some manufacture apps are going to come with some default programs in there. They might have a default program you could try for listening to music or listening to television, or perhaps during our appointment together, we've built a program specifically for you for something you told me about.

Changing programs:

So, for example, if you were one of my patients and you said, "You know what Christine, I'm doing well with the hearing aids except when I'm at choir practice, it's quite echoey." Then I might actually go into your hearing aids and build you a program specifically for your choir practice environment, so then you could change your hearing aid into choir program as needed. Most apps also allow you as the patient to make your own program now. So, that's kind of a really cool function that we have. So, again, all of these apps are slightly different in their function, but lots of them will allow you to adjust. They'll give you a little bit of an equalizer, you could adjust the bass tones, the mid-tones and the treble tones. Some of them are going to also allow you to adjust the amount of noise suppression going on or the microphone direction or the microphone focus.

So, then the cool thing is you can make those live changes. So, for example, if you're at a pub with your friends and you're having a hard time hearing, open up the app and start making some of those quick changes and just see if that is giving you what you want, whether it's more clarity or more noise suppression. You can do that while you're in that environment and make some changes to help yourself further.

I do tend to say to my patients personally, "At the end of the day, if you're doing a lot of fiddling with the app, that's often a sign to come into me so that I can make some more precise or maybe more specific adjustments for you so that you don't have to do so much work." But if it's just kind of a one-off, you're at a restaurant while visiting a family member in a totally different city and you just need this quick and easy help, it's absolutely a great tool to use. Some of our apps do also allow for remote programming of hearing aids. This is something that's been really helpful during the pandemic when some people don't feel comfortable coming into appointments or just don't have that ability to come in. So, we are able to now make some adjustments to your hearing aids through the use of these apps, which is really great.

Your Audiologist can use an app to adjust your hearing aids:

So, if you're traveling or you're just not able to come into the clinic or not comfortable with it, but you just want an adjustment made to your hearing aid settings, we can do that as well through the use of these apps. So, these are really, really great tools to have. If this is something that does overwhelm you or just doesn't seem like something you're going to use, you don't have to. Your hearing aids are going to work just fine if you're not using these things, but if you're curious and motivated and a great thing to teach yourself, to just better empower you, to get the most out of your hearing aids, absolutely, go ahead and explore. It's a really great thing to have.

So, I just wanted to show you guys again, just an example of what some of the hearing aid apps look like. So, again, with this particular app made by Phonak, we can see that we do have the option to customize some of the frequencies. There's a treble adjustment, and mid adjustment and bass adjustment, overall volume adjustment, overall noise adjustment. And then you can actually save that and create a special program. So, maybe you had adjusted it for going to a play, you could save that as your play program. There's also these little cheats for getting more comfort from your hearing aids, if you're somewhere quite noisy or more clarity, or just with somebody that you're having a harder time hearing, you need more distinction. So, again, each app is going to have a different look and a different interface, but generally speaking, a lot of the same features.

The benefits of hearing aid Apps

So, we've talked about a little bit of this already, the benefits of the apps. Adjusting the tone of the hearing aids, and this is something really important to note. If you're brand new to hearing aids, and this is your first pair of hearing aids, and you just got them and we've got the app installed, the best thing to do is just not do anything to them in the app. And the reason for that is that we want your brain to get used to the sound of the hearing aids. We want to retrain the brain to listen with what the hearing aid is giving it - it's important for our brain to relearn how to hear with hearing aids.

So, in the very, very beginning, if you're getting hearing aids for the first time or even getting a new pair of hearing aids, try to just give them a good week or two without making a ton of adjustments on your own. That way, when you come back to your Audiologist, whether it's me or somebody else, and you're telling them the things that are great about the hearing aids or things that are not working for you about the hearing aids, we're getting feedback about what we have ultimately programmed for you, not settings that you have adjusted that we're not able to control or necessarily see how they got utilized.

As a good rule of thumb, if you need more clarity, if you're in a situation where things are not as clear or maybe a little bit more muffled, try increasing the high frequencies. High frequencies is the spot where most people do have hearing loss. If they have age or noise-related hearing loss, that's typically where we're giving you a good amount of amplification already, but if things are just not quite where you want in terms of clarity, a little bit more high frequency help it's going to give you more crispness or more distinction, help you get those soft consonant sounds. If there's a lot of background noise, as a general rule of thumb, most background noise does tend to be low-pitched. So, in that instance, you might want to try decreasing the low frequencies that will often reduce, or at least suppress to some extent background noise that you may be hearing.

Tracking your phone/hearing aids

I mentioned earlier that some hearing aid apps will track the location of your hearing aids, kind of. So, the key thing to understand about the apps that do offer location services or a find my hearing aid feature is that your hearing aids do not have GPS built into them, but your phone does. So, what we're doing is telling your phone to remember the location of everywhere it goes, whether that's to church, whether you're driving in the car to school or to work, remember the location of everywhere your phone has gone, but also remember where the hearing aids actively connected by Bluetooth everywhere we've been. So, you really do have to be somebody who takes your phone everywhere you go for this to really be effective for finding lost hearing aids if you did happen to lose your hearing aids.

If you, for example, have your hearing aids connected to your tablet and you have that location allowed, but you don't bring your tablet everywhere you go, your tablet is always going to think your hearing aids are at home, because your tablet is not leaving the house when your hearing aids leave the house. Hopefully, that makes sense to people why it's just so important to... Not that it's important in life to carry your phone with you, but for hearing aid tracking, it is. Some apps do offer some pre-set programs as well. So, if you or I, or whoever your Audiologist is haven't set up any manual programs, some apps do have some pre-sets in there. You can always try out. Some will have like a restaurant program or maybe a live music program that you can try.

Mask mode

And some hearing aids like Signia in particular, I know their app has a mask mode. So, that's been really great during the pandemic and was developed because of the pandemic. We know that people wearing masks are going to sound more muffled, because the mask naturally is blocking more of the clarity of their speech and making them a little bit softer. So, by enabling mask mode in your hearing aids, all of a sudden, we're going to help give you an extra boost to overcome what that mask is doing to the person's speech. Widex in particular, I know their app has something cool called SoundSense Learn. So, basically, it's a feature again, you could use if you're in an environment like a pub where you're having a hard time hearing. It's going to ask you a couple of questions about where you are and what your goal is. So, maybe I'm saying, "I'm in a really noisy place and my goal is to hear my friend better." Then you can just go through these series of A/B comparisons.

Pre-set programs

So, it's going to say, "Hey, which sound quality is better, sound quality A or sound quality B?" And you listen and you pick A or B, A or B, and it's going to fine-tune the sound for you. So, that one is neat because it can guides you through that process. If you don't have that background knowledge about which sounds you want to adjust, you don't have to have that background knowledge, you just have to decide, "Hey, which was..." It's like being at the optometrist, "Which is better, one or two, one or two?" So, it's very much the same idea there. Just some quick examples of, again, different apps and what they look like. This is Oticon's app here showing us volume adjustments, a mute button, where we're going to adjust our programs that we have, a find my hearing aid function to bring up a map and see where left and right hearing aids are, just an example of an equalizer what it might look like. Some of them will even come with pre-sets you can choose.

Again, some apps do come with pre-set programs you can try out, like for a cafe or for outdoor sporting event or for watching television. This one here is Signia's app with that mask mode button that you can enable for use for anybody who's wearing a mask that you need to hear better. So, I think we're all getting kind of where I'm going with the benefit of the hearing aid apps is that there's a lot of customizability in here and that we can also, if we need to make remote adjustments in the hearing aids as well for you guys, if you're not able attend the clinic. So, the thing to know about the remote adjustments is you do have to have an internet connection for that to work.

Troubleshooting Bluetooth

So, earlier I had said how great it is that we have Bluetooth and you don't need the internet for Bluetooth and by and large, that is true, but if we are going to attempt to remotely connect to your hearing aids from my computer to you at home, you do have to be connected to the internet. In this instance, we do need an internet connection to either send you settings or live connect to you through a video call and adjust your hearing aids.

So, if we ever are going to do that, do just make sure you have a good internet connection. If you've got a good internet connection at home, great. Not super great to do this if you're just out and about without a strong internet connection, or you're just trying to use public Wi-Fi, sometimes that can be spotty. Otherwise, nice and easy to use. If you do have questions about that too, you can always again, reach out to myself or reach out to your audiologist or the clinic. If we do need it, we can give you a little more specific detail about how it's going to work with your specific hearing aids. Troubleshooting Bluetooth, this is something we spend a lot of our time doing these days. Bluetooth while convenient is not perfect, and it's not that it's not perfect just for hearing aids, Bluetooth is just not perfect for all Bluetooth devices.

So, ultimately Bluetooth is a wireless signal and its range is limited. So if, for example, you were streaming music from your cell phone into your hearing aids and you left your cell phone on the couch, and then you went upstairs, eventually you're going to be too far away for that Bluetooth signal to effectively communicate from your phone to your hearing aids and things might get crackly or spotty or cut in and out, or may just quit altogether. So, ultimately, being within direct line-of-sight is always going to be best, even though sometimes Bluetooth can get around walls. Like if you, again, left your phone in the living room, but you went to the kitchen to grab a snack, yeah, sometimes that will work, but sometimes not. So, just understand that if you're getting quite far away, it's not unreasonable for the Bluetooth connection to start to cut in and out or drop all together if we don't have that direct uninterrupted line-of-sight.

The environment that you're in may also help or hinder how that Bluetooth signal is getting from your phone or your tablet to your hearing aids. I'm just going to jump ahead a second, there's a nice visual here. So, when you're at home and you're in a room, there's lots of walls here for a signal to bounce off of. I know this is a little bit small, but what we're looking at is a person standing in the kitchen and their phone is on their kitchen counter. There's lots of walls and covered doors to help bounce that signal around and into her, I assume it's a woman, into her hearing aids. That's going to really optimize the chance of that signal of getting to the hearing aids and getting to the hearing aids strongly.

If we contrast her with our lovely man riding his bicycle with his phone in his back pocket, there's no walls outdoors. So, that signal, it has nothing to bounce off of. So, there's a much greater chance that that signal is not going to reach the hearing aids with the same effectiveness, even though the phone is fairly close by, there's a good chance that maybe spotty or get interrupted. So, in general, back pocket is not the best place for your phone or your tablet to be if you're wanting to actively stream. Definitely, try to keep it in a front pocket or in front of you or in a purse or something like that that's on the front. For whatever reason, if things are kept to the backside, we can get a little bit of body shielding where your body is physically blocking that signal. And then again, if you're outside, there's no other walls to bounce that signal back to the hearing aids.

Connecting to multiple devices:

Other things we can do to help troubleshoot Bluetooth, most of our hearing aids, you can connect them to multiple devices. So, lots of my patients will have maybe their phone and their tablet connected, because sometimes they make phone calls on their phone while they're out and about, but sometimes they're at home and they want to watch Netflix on their tablet, you can have both devices connected. The problem is Bluetooth is not super perfect. So, the Bluetooth and the hearing aids, it's just going to automatically connect to whichever one sometimes just has a stronger signal. It doesn't necessarily know that you're intending to use Netflix versus use your phone. So, if you do have multiple devices connected, a good rule of thumb is if you're intending to switch from one device to another, if you can just disconnect the hearing aids or toggle Bluetooth off temporarily, just to make sure that the hearing aids really only have one option for which device they are going to latch onto and which device they are going to root that sound to, if that makes sense.

Apple products:

We have seen some issues as well with Apple products, in particular, if you have multiple, multiple, multiple devices that are connected using the same Apple ID, there's something going on with the Apple ID sharing that will cause other devices to disrupt, even though you haven't paired to them. So, this, I see more if like a husband and wife are sharing an Apple ID between the two of them, so ultimately they might have like two cell phones and two tablets, maybe there's an Apple Watch involved. It's a lot of devices, so it's best not to share that Apple ID with other people and to minimize the devices that you are connected to.

Slow connections?

If for some reason, things are slow to work on your phone or your tablet, just close any apps that are running in the background that aren't needed. On newer iPhones, you're going to swipe up from the bottom and that's going to then shrink the apps a little bit for you and you can swipe up to close them. On older iPhones with a button, you do a double click, a fast double click on that home button, and then same thing that apps will appear in a smaller form and you swipe up to close them. So, when we're talking about closing them, that's the equivalent of, if you're on a computer, hitting that X in the top right-hand corner to close things. Otherwise, if you haven't actually hit that X and closed things, then what's going on is things are just still running in the background, they're open, they're just minimized and that's taking up brain power from the phones or computer basically.

Every now & then, close open apps

So, just every now and then, periodically, go through and close things, that's a really great habit to get into. On Android, they should have a way. I can't remember if you pull down from the top and then it lets you close the apps individually as well. Again, different on every phone. If you're not sure, you can just Google, but definitely a good thing if things are acting up, close the apps and just reopen them if needed. Moving on, oh, so just some other troubleshooting tips in general. What if your hearing aids aren't streaming and you're thinking, "Christine, you told me that if I play the music, it's just going to go into my hearing aids and it's not." Go ahead into either that Bluetooth menu or that accessibility and hearing devices menu, and just make sure the hearing aids are connected.

Again, Bluetooth is great, but it's not perfect. So, every now and then, that connection may fail to reestablish when your hearing aids turn on in the morning. So, if the case, basic, basic troubleshooting works 90% of the time. And that basic troubleshooting, you just try turning your Bluetooth off and on, and turn your hearing aids off and on. Just reboot both devices that you're trying to utilize and that should, for the most part, resolve it. If that doesn't, try turning your phone all the way off and all the way on rather than just toggling Bluetooth off and on. The good old turn it off and turn it on tip really does work most of the time. What if your hearing aids are connected, but things are cutting in and out? Is it possible that this signal was interrupted at any point in time?

So, sometimes this will happen if, say for example, you're streaming music, but a text message sound came in and that was also utilizing a Bluetooth signal, that might just quickly and temporarily disrupt whatever you're listening to. So, that can be a good thing to be aware of, and you might need to go into your phone settings and see if there's any notifications that need to be turned off. The interesting thing with Bluetooth is, and I've noticed this and I don't think I would've realized this if I wasn't a hearing aid user myself is that for myself personally, when I have my hearing aids connected to my laptop, computer and Bluetooth is active, sometimes I'll go onto websites and I can hear my hearing aids toggle into Bluetooth streaming mode, even though there's not actually any audio sound being streamed, but I can hear that change in the sound quality.

So, every now and then, you get something funny like a webpage or a notification that's going to send a Bluetooth signal, but it's not actually sending a sound that you're hearing. So, every now and then, that does occur to people and they intuitively just think, "Oh, it keeps cutting in and out. It's cutting in and out." And I guess, the perception is it's cutting in and out, yes, but it's actually just being disrupted by something else. So, if we can try and figure out what that something else is, we can help to minimize that disruption.

Other basic things, just try and be close to your phone or your tablet or computer, whatever you're trying to stream to. If your hearing aids are connected to multiple devices, for example, myself personally, I have my hearing aids connected to my computer and my cell phone, if I'm streaming something on the computer and my cell phone starts ringing from like a spammer because they're the only people who call me, it is going to interrupt what I'm listening to on my computer. So, the phone is going to interrupt. So, in that instance, it would've been better if I had turned my Bluetooth off on my cell phone proactively just to prevent that disruption. If you don't, it's not the end of the world, but it's just something to learn what works for you personally and your usage and your habits as time goes on.

Shared Apple ID?

Again, I talked about, do you have a lot of devices that are using the same Apple ID? Are you sharing an Apple ID with your son and your daughter or your husband? If so, maybe time to get your own and just minimize how many devices are connected to that Apple ID period. If some of these basic things are really not working, absolutely feel free to call the office and schedule an appointment with your audiologist, and we may have some better tips and tricks or just make sure that the hearing aids themselves are not cutting in and out, even though maybe something is not actually Bluetooth-related. So, if you can't troubleshoot it yourself, we're always here to help you.

Hearing aids compatible with the app?

If your hearing aid app is not connected, again, just make sure the hearing aids are compatible with the app. You might want to check the manufacturer website. You do want to make sure that your phone or tablet has the minimum required software installed. So, I do see sometimes patients coming in with older iPhones or older Android phones that just aren't compatible with the app itself or the app has been updated, and now requires you to have newer operating system on your phone or tablet that you currently have. So, sometimes that can happen. If all those fails, just delete the hearing aid pairings and repair them to the app. If that doesn't work, then I would say, delete the app itself from the phone, uninstall it and reinstall. It's even better if you can uninstall the app, restart the phone and then reinstall the app. Every now and then, it's not that common, but every now and then, the app will install with just some sort of weird glitch that doesn't allow things to work perfectly. And just our only way to resolve that is to delete it and reinstall it.

If you're not familiar with how to delete an app from your phone and reinstall it, again, really great place to look would just be search on YouTube, search on Google for the phone that you have and just search how to delete an app. And if that doesn't work, you can call the office as well. That one in particular is harder for us to troubleshoot over the phone unless we personally are very familiar with the phone that you have. So, quick Google or YouTube search should easily find you something that can show you with pictures what to do. Other good tips, just keep your phone or tablet software up to date. Ensure the hearing aid app is up to date.

Keep the app up-to-date:

So, if you can, if you get asked to or prompted to when you install the app, allow for automatic updates just to keep it working as well as possible. They will roll out updates fairly frequently to catch any bugs that happen occurring and fix those. So, it's always great to keep those things up to date. If you're in a situation where you have two hearing aids and it's not a Phonak or Unitron hearing aid and only one is showing up, or you can only get one connected, but both are showing up, see your audiologist. Sometimes the hearing aids have just lost their wireless connection to each other, and we need to establish that wireless connection to each other before they can then connect to your cell phone or tablet together as a pair.

Still have questions?

Again, as I was saying earlier, if you're finding a lot of this stuff kind of over your head, or it feels like it's out of your league in terms of what your technology and experience is, there's classes you can take. I just did a quick Google search, I found when I was Googling, there's a company called here in Victoria that offers technical support and technical classes and tutoring for seniors. Oak Bay, I searched for Oak Bay just because that's where I am working out of. Oak Bay Rec, they also offer some like tech classes and computer classes in general. So, a lot of the troubleshooting skills for if these things are failing, do require having a little bit of a working knowledge already of just general being tech savvy. So, if you're not sure, you always take a class too, that's always another great resource to have just in your back pocket. And that is it. If you do need a follow up appointment, you can always visit our website, give us a call either here at the Oak Bay office or the Broadmead office.

If you want to talk about hearing aid apps with an Audiologist, please call: Broadmead Hearing Clinic: 250-479-2969 or Oak Bay Hearing Clinic: 250-479-2921