Hearing aid users have recently been reported to experience problems with electromagnetic interference when using digital cellular phones. This study was undertaken to investigate the possible benefit of an induction loop system developed for use with some cellular phone models, and also to compare the possible benefit in two languages (Finnish and American English) as well as the benefit with two hearing aid technologies (analog versus digital).
The study was performed in controlled laboratory conditions at two tertiary care hearing health care centers, one in Oulu, Finland and the other in Dallas, in the United States. The subjects were experienced users of behind-the-ear hearing aids and served as their own controls in three different listening conditions. Thirty-two eligible subjects (20 in Oulu and 12 in Dallas) participated in three test conditions: 1. call with a landline phone, 2. call with a digital cellular phone alone and 3. call with a digital cellular phone coupled to an induction loop.
Sentence recognition scores and subjective judgments using a visual analog scale revealed the poorest results with the digital cellular phone alone. When the induction loop was used with the digital cellular phones, sentence recognition scores and the visual analog scale scores were comparable to the scores obtained with a landline phone. The mean sentence recognition score for analog hearing aids was 62.4% (95% confidence interval 50.2 to 74.6) with the landline phone, 12.6% (−1.6 to 26.9) with the digital cellular phone alone, and 63.3% (44.2 to 82.3) when using the digital cellular phone with the induction loop. For digital hearing aids, the sentence recognition scores were 62.4% (51.9 to 72.9), 37.4% (18.0 to 56.8) and 57.6% (39.0 to 76.2), respectively. There was no significant difference in performance between the two centers. However, when using the digital cellular phone alone, there was no drop in the sentence recognition scores with the few (N = 5) digital hearing aids in Dallas. The subjects ranked the digital cellular phone alone as the poorest test condition and the digital cellular phone with an induction loop as the best.
Induction loops appear to offer one possible solution for the incompatibility problem between hearing aids and digital cellular phones. However, the generalizability of the results must be viewed cautiously, because testing included only one induction loop and two digital cellular phone models.