My Journey to Synchronised Hearing – the new Naida Link Hearing Aid

ChrisMy hearing failed with age. An NHS referral to AIS for a CI failed, because residual hearing in one ear was too high. After three more years of fully-sustained residual hearing, I swallowed hard and went down the self-funded pathway.

This began with conversations with USAIS. I knew of longer-term work to try to find a biological cure for my type of age-related deafness, so was interested in a single implant only. These conversations also covered the choice of implant, which included the idea of a synchronised hearing aid (Phonak Naida Link Hearing Aid) which was being designed to work with the Advanced Bionics (AB) implant to improve binaural hearing. 

After implantation, I wanted to benefit as quickly as possible. Experience with mathematical brain models leads me to believe that efficacy in training depends on the ability to associate sounds with words and, for fast learning, the quantity of training is more important than the time over which it takes place. With those thoughts in mind, for around three hours a night, I used proprietary devices to stream very clear sound signals from a TV to my hearing aid and CI; and sub-titles and lip-reading to associate those sounds with words. Views on how CI training should best be conducted vary, but this regime worked for me.

I later followed USAIS’ advice to listen to a car radio (when safe to do so) to improve the ability to cope in noisy environments. I’ll say more about these environments when I come to the Nadia Link Hearing Aid’s stereo-zoom, which brings me to a good point to introduce the capabilities of this exceptional hearing aid.

Traditional or un-synchronised aids typically deliver sound at a slightly different time to the CI, leaving the brain to try to make sense of separate sounds in separate ears at any instant in time. A synchronised aid communicates with the CI such that both deliver the same sound at the same time; just like natural hearing. For me, this was a case of not realising how much I had lost until I re-discovered synchronised hearing. It may seem trivial, but it isn’t, and when combined with the aid’s other features, my hearing experiences have been greatly enhanced.

Unlike my recent previous aids, when the new technology Nadia Link Hearing Aid was being fitted, there was a great deal of undistorted amplification available beyond any level I needed for comfortable hearing. Within a few days I was getting used to it: living in a much noisier world, hearing how badly my floorboards creaked, picking up the middle two consonants of the BBC South presenter Anjana Gadgil’s surname and understanding my car radio at a lower volume. In conversation when walking in company, I no longer needed a companion to walk on the side of my CI. About five days after fitting, situations that I normally found difficult through echoes became much easier.

The Nadia Link Hearing Aid offers a number of ways to improve musical appreciation: synchronisation and better amplification for melody and more undistorted amplification to capture a much truer sense of volume. Its features include a duo-phone (to enable a phone to be heard in both the CI and aid), echo block and stereo-zoom. The aid is so good that the echo block is rarely needed. Stereo-zoom is far ahead of any I have used in the past. Three weeks after fitting, I used it to enjoy a seventy-five minute conversation in a noisy coffee shop, where four weeks earlier I had struggled when using my CI and previous hearing aid.

I initially experienced problems using the Nadia Link Hearing Aid use with its streaming devices; a TV Link and Compilot. I had been using the streaming devices with the CI alone for some months without problems. As part of an experiment to practice listening in noise, my TV link was connected to a sound mixer’s output, whose inputs were primarily the TV but occasionally the output of a “noise” CD from a CD-ROM player. USAIS and AB looked into my problems, for which I am grateful.  These problems were all resolved by plugging the TV Link directly into the TV’s analogue sound output. Among lessons learned were (i) when a TV Link takes its output from a sound system, it may work well when streaming to a CI alone but not when streaming to both a CI and aid, and (ii) when building or changing a sound system, start by connecting the TV Link to the TV directly and check for any degradation of performance as it is built or changed.

In summary, the combination of CI and Nadia Link Hearing Aid go a very long way to recapturing the natural sense of hearing I enjoyed when I was young.