But I’m Not Ready for Hearing Aids
That’s okay! There are many options to help you hear better
If you miss words in a TV show, or you can’t follow conversations in noisy environments — you might not need hearing aids, but do want some kind of hearing enhancement. Maybe iPod earbuds in a restaurant, or a hearing loop receiver and headphones at a theater. The exciting news is that more products are being developed for hearing assistance than ever before.
First Step: Take a hearing screening
- Online hearing screenings can be an easy first step. Learn more.
- AARP members have access to free telephone hearing tests offered by National Hearing Test.org. Non-AARP members can pay $8.00 for this service.
- Throughout Washington State, select Costco Hearing Centers offer free, in-person hearing tests
- A visit to your primary care doc or hearing health professional may provide deeper insight. Learn more on our Working with a hearing health professional page.
Important: Routine hearing care should be a part of regular health maintenance. Wax build-up blocks sound. Noise induced hearing loss is both common and preventable. Tinnitus and rock concerts go hand in hand. Sudden Hearing Loss is a medical emergency and should be treated as such; if treated with steroids early on, hearing may be restored.
Many alternatives to hearing aids:
If you don’t need hearing aids yet, there are other technologies that may enhance your hearing in specific situations throughout your day.
Turning on closed captions can improve your understanding and memory of what you hear.
Soundbars are an external speaker option to amplify audio.
Pairing a Bluetooth-enabled TV with wireless TV headphones delivers a direct, private audio signal and reduces background noise.
A home hearing loop system also lets you hear clearly without the volume becoming too loud for others in the room. Hearing loops send TV audio directly to a telecoil-equipped personal amplifier or telecoil-equipped ear buds and a smartphone.
- TV hearing aids and devices (Hearing Health)
- A loop at home? Yes! And here’s how (Let’s Loop Seattle)
- How to Hear Your TV Better (AARP)
- Telecoil-enabled earphones (OTOjOY)
Talking on the phone:
If you are using a work or home landline, caption phones displays what your caller says. These phones let you hear what you can and read what you need to. Amplified phones help by increasing the audio as much as 50 decibels. These phones may also have features such as a headphone and extra loud ringers.
Easy-to-use smartphone caption apps turn speech to text on your mobile device. Most apps are free and provide real-time captioning using speech recognition software. Some of these mobile apps can also be used for in-person conversations. The InnoCaption mobile app is unique in using live stenographers.
- Phone captioning apps for people with hearing loss (Hearing Like Me)
- Highly rated Phone apps for captioning (Hearing Health)
- Free or discounted telecommunications equipment (Washington State residents only)
- CapTel (caption-enabled telephones)
- CaptionCall (caption-enabled telephones)
Going to the movies or live theater:
Captions can boost your enjoyment and keep you going to the movies and theater. Local theaters often list captioned showtimes on their website. Or you can call and request captions.
Open captions are always in view and cannot be turned off. At the movies, these are often projected on the screen, similar to subtitles. At live performances, open captions may be seen above or to the side of the stage.
Closed captions are shown on devices and can be turned on and off by the viewer. Regal Cinemas provide Sony Glasses; AMC uses Captiview devices. ACT Theater, in Seattle, offers the Figaro System which shows live captions on a personal tablet provided at the box office.
A growing number of theatres provide assistive listening systems (ALS) — such as hearing loops. These systems deliver a direct audio signal to a receiver and headphones. With telecoil-enabled hearing aids, you can connect directly hearing loop ALS. Otherwise, venues provide ALS receivers and headphones or you can use your own telecoil-equipped personal amplifier or telecoil-equipped earbuds and a smartphone.
Sharing a meal with friends or family:
If you find it difficult to hear in a noisy restaurant or around a family table, hearables might help. These “smart earbuds” are a cross between wireless earbuds and traditional hearing aids. Hearables can include features like noise and feedback cancellation and directional microphones. Hearables are sometimes referred to as personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).
Easy-to-use smartphone caption apps can also be used for in-person conversations. Ava lets you share a QR code with multiple people and captures each voice as text on participants’ mobile devices.
- Highly rated Phone apps for captioning (Hearing Health)
- How to use Ava (product video; we suggest turning on the captions)
- Hearable Technology Guide (Hearing Tracker)
Participating in a meeting:
During in-person meetings, wearable devices called personal amplifiers may help you hear better. These devices use a microphone to pick up and deliver nearby sounds via ear buds or headphones. Smartphone caption apps can also be helpful.
For online meetings, platforms such as Zoom, Cisco WebEx, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams provide real-time captions and live transcription. Captions appear on the same screen as the video. A live transcription appears next to the video and shows the speaker’s name and a time stamp.
- What Are PSAPs And How Do They Differ From Hearing Aids? (Forbes magazine)
- 5 Tips to Hear Better in Virtual Meetings + Gatherings (Audiology & Hearing Health)
The tech industry is constantly developing new hearing enhancement technologies. It can be hard to know what is not just the latest but also the greatest. Use our technology sections to stay current:
Hearing well in different situations may require different technologies — what works best at home may not work well when you’re out and about
What Are Hearables?
Discover wireless hearing devices that enhance your listening experience
If you or someone you love is struggling in conversations, check out our tips for effective communication
Something else to consider: Over-the-counter hearing aids are coming to online and retail locations. OTC hearing aids are for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Learn more on our Hearing Aids 101 page.