The fire alarm goes off or the doorbell rings, but you cannot hear it. The baby is crying because the phone is ringing, but you cannot tell. For most people, an auditory alert is all that is needed for them to take action or seek safety, but for people with hearing loss, this is often not possible and additional alerting methods are needed. Luckily, many options exist and new technology continues to be developed, including haptics and remote visual alerts.
MAKE THE ALERT LOUDER
If you can't hear an alert from common products such as phones, doorbells, and alarm clocks, one option is to adjust the volume. While loud tone alerts can be effective, they can also be dangerous for your residual hearing. Amplified alerts can be very loud—up to 100 dB or more when activated. Of note, exposure to sounds at 110 dB or more for over two minutes can cause permanent hearing loss (CDC, 2019; https://bit.ly/3nwilVB). Several phone brands including Panasonic and AT& Toffer loud tone ringer phones, most with amplified voice control too. Extra loud ringtones are also available for most smartphones.
MAKE THE ALERT VISUAL
A better option may be a visual alert system where a normal volume sound triggers a secondary alert of a flashing or strobe light. This method works well for doorbells, telephone ringers, and baby monitors, as well as already loud alerts like fire alarms and other emergency notifications. Some alert systems come with a visual option built into the program, so both auditory and visual alerts are activated simultaneously. Others require a separate unit. Place the receiver next to the speaker of the audible alert and when a tone is detected, a visual signal is activated. Depending on the size of the home, multiple receivers may be needed to create a visible flash in every room.
Smartphones can also be set up to provide visual alerts for phone calls and text messages. For iPhone, look in the Audio/Visual Hearing category under Accessibility settings to turn on LED Flash for Alerts. Visual alerts are available on some Android phones, but not on others. Check the Notification options on the phone settings before purchasing an Android phone if this is a critical feature for you.
MAKE THE ALERT TACTILE
Tactile alerts vibrate when the device makes a sound. These work well for alarm clocks, baby monitors, smoke alarms, and other emergency alarm systems. Place a vibrating pad or bed shaker under your mattress or pillow to be shaken awake when a designated alert goes off. Tactile alerts are also available on smartwatches. Link your watch or fitness tracker to your phone and you will feel your phone ringing or a text message alert right on your wrist. Tactile notifications are effective and subtle, making them a winning combination in many situations.
LET YOUR SMARTPHONE ALERT YOU TO AMBIENT SOUNDS
Smartphones get more useful for people with hearing loss every day and soon, it will be possible for them to alert you to a variety of ambient noises. Apple's new iOS includes sound recognition alerts allowing you to use your iPhone to monitor your environment and receive an alert when certain sounds are detected. Choices include a variety of alarms (fire, siren, smoke), household sounds (doorbells, door knocking, water running) as well as animal sounds (dog barks) and people sounds (baby crying).
Android phones can accomplish similar functions via apps or through its new Sound Notifications feature (https://bit.ly/2SUkrQV).
Alerting devices that provide loud tone, visual, or tactile cues provide better safety, increased independence, and a more inclusive lifestyle for people with hearing loss. Ask your audiologist for recommendations for your specific hearing challenges.