Smart phones to help hard of hear­ing


Be­ing close to her fam­ily is what mat­ters most to Sarah Kram­mer.

The sound of her daugh­ter’s voice over FaceTime and the crack of leather on wil­low at her son’s cricket matches are what she des­per­ately wanted to hear and couldn’t, un­til now.

The 51-year-old Lower Hutt nurse’s hear­ing had been get­ting pro­gres­sively worse since her 20s but a new hear­ing de­vice that links up to her smart­phone will hope­fully make her life just a lit­tle bit eas­ier.

On Oc­to­ber 18 she un­der­went the two-hour cochlear im­plant surgery that cost, along with the de­vice and sup­port costs, close to $50,000.

How­ever, the Min­istry of Health cov­ered Kram­mer’s costs af­ter they an­nounced a $6.5 mil­lion fund­ing boost for the cochlear im­plants in Au­gust.

The in­crease meant the to­tal num­ber of adults able to re­ceive fund­ing for the surgery, equip­ment and sup­port grew from 40 to 100.

The prospect of re­con­nect­ing with fam­ily, friends and col­leagues mo­ti­vated her to un­dergo the surgery as she had be­come self-con­scious about her de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hear­ing.

She felt she had ‘‘missed out on so much’’ as she of­ten tried to avoid con­ver­sa­tions and so­cial sit­u­a­tions.

The im­plant works in con­junc­tion with a sound pro­ces­sor worn be­hind the ear.

Rather than mak­ing sounds louder like a hear­ing aid, the de­vice re­places the func­tion of the dam­aged in­ner ear which sends sound sig­nals to the brain.

Cochlear im­plants have been avail­able for more than 20 years.

How­ever, the lat­est de­vel­op­ment in the tech­nol­ogy is the Nu­cleus 7 sound pro­ces­sor which can stream sound di­rectly from an Ap­ple de­vice such as an iPhone or iPad via a spe­cial app.

The user’s pro­ces­sor can con­nect di­rectly with the de­vice when tak­ing calls or us­ing ser­vices such as Facetime or Skype. The Nu­cleus 7 can also be used to lis­ten to mu­sic, watch videos and play games.

Her im­plant was switched on a week ago, and she is al­ready notic­ing im­prove­ments in her hear­ing.

‘‘I had no idea my car beeped when it was in re­verse.’’

She has owned the car for five years.

South­ern Cochlear Im­plant Pro­gramme au­di­ol­o­gist Hat­ten Howard said Kram­mer was one of the first pa­tients in the pro­gramme to get the Nu­cleus 7.

He said the main ad­van­tage of the new tech­nol­ogy was the abil­ity to ad­just and mon­i­tor the im­plant and pro­ces­sor from a mo­bile de­vice such as a phone.

The mo­bile de­vice re­placed the need to carry a sep­a­rate re­mote con­trol as used in pre­vi­ous ver­sions of the Nu­cleus.

‘‘It’s a mat­ter of con­ve­nience. A lot of peo­ple are put off by hav­ing to carry an­other gad­get. It al­lows a lis­tener to change set­tings in more chal­leng­ing sce­nar­ios.’’

Al­though the im­plant and pro­ces­sor were still be­ing fine­tuned to her needs, Kram­mer had been im­pressed by the im­prove­ment it had made.

She had al­ready tested it out by talk­ing to her daugh­ter, Rosina, who lives in Mel­bourne, on Facetime.

‘‘It’s amaz­ing to be able to talk to her. It’s been quite over­whelm­ing.

She had also been able to ap­proach her work with much more con­fi­dence.

‘‘I was a good nurse be­fore, but with this, I’ll be in­vin­ci­ble!’’


Sarah Kram­mer is one of the first re­cip­i­ents to re­ceive the Nu­cleus 7 im­plant, which al­lows a lis­tener to stream calls from a smart­phone or tablet.

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