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With powerful new processor, a hearing aid goes high tech

New 'Opn' hearing aid by Oticon is basically a computer

The Opn hearing aid by Oticon is raising the hearing aid bar, according to several local audiology outlets.
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The Opn hearing aid by Oticon is raising the hearing aid bar, according to several local audiology outlets.

The humble hearing aid, like the humble telephone before it, has apparently morphed into a computer that can do amazing things.

Last Wednesday, in his cozy office at Ear Tech, 3904 Ninth Ave. W., Bradenton, owner Mark Krywko opened the case of a hearing aid that came on the market about eight months ago. The device uses a powerful processor and software to separate noise from speech.

“I honestly believe this is rather revolutionary,” Krywko said with a smile while holding up the Opn, a hearing aid made by a well-established company called Oticon. “This device can do things others can’t.”

You don’t even know you have them on. I can tell where everyone’s at. I belong to the Elks and Mark and I were at a very crowded function, music going and calling names and numbers. Mark, who is not hearing impaired, couldn’t make out the names and numbers. I was picking up all around me. These hearing aids pick up all around you.

Marja Krywko, on her Opn hearing aids

Krywko went on to explain that the Opn’s beefy new circuitry, which took the company about 10 years to perfect, allows the device to scan the environment more than 100 times per second, analyzing and reacting to sounds it picks up.

“Its software then tells it how to interpret the sound it picks up,” Krywko said. “It can detect the difference between speech and noise.”

Hearing aids without computer boosts are designed to amplify sound by using directional microphones to create what could be called a audio beam. The microphones’ beam allows users to hear sounds directly in front of them more clearly and those in the background less so.

The most economical model of the Opn will start at $4,500 for a pair. For the very best you are looking at $7,000 for a set. The difference is how much extra noise is it going to keep out. It comes in degrees.

Mark Krywko, owner, Ear Tech in Bradenton

The downside to this technology is that speech from the side and behind the user are attenuated or missed, said Dr. Lyndsey Nalu, owner of Adept Audiology, LLC, 1751 Mound St., Ste. 105, Sarasota.

“Opn doesn’t use a beam,” Nalu said last week. “Instead, it analyzes speech and sound over 100 times per second from all around the user, or 360 degrees. Noise, including sounds heard between speech, are suppressed. This preserves the speech even in the most complex listening environments.”

If a user is wearing Opns in both ears, for example, the two hearing aids will talk to each other, Krywko said.

“One can say to the other, ‘Hey, I got this,’ ’ Krywko said. “They are constantly communicating with each other. What makes these special is the power of the computer.”

“This is definitely revolutionary,” Nalu added. “Opn’s approach to hearing in noise is completely different from that of previous technology. People with ‘normal’ hearing do not receive input from only one direction when they are in noise. They receive input from all directions and the brain then decides where to focus. Opn processes sound very much the same way.”

To add to its high tech resume, Opn is also equipped with Bluetooth, allowing a patient to wirelessly sync their cell phone to their hearing aid, Nalu said.

“This allows them to make adjustments and take phone calls without a device worn around their neck,” Nalu said. “They can also sync the aids to their TV, which makes a huge improvement in understanding dialogue on their favorite shows and movies.”

The Internet connection allows his clients to also listen to their music files right in their aids and have messages spoken into their aids, like it’s time to take medicine, time to leave for the movies or even that their hearing aid batteries are low, Krywko said.

“Many don’t want to use the Internet functions, but they are available,” Krywko added.

Patient reaction has been positive, Nalu said.

“We consistently hear, ‘I can’t believe how well I hear at a restaurant,’ ” Nalu said. “Others say, ‘I can finally have conversations in the car and I have no trouble hearing at parties.’ In general, our patients are hearing significantly better in the most complex listening environments.”

One of the first patients Krywko fitted with Opns was his wife, Marja, 60, who got hers four months ago.

“You don’t even know you have them on,” said Marja Krywko. “I can tell where everyone’s at. I belong to the Elks and Mark and I were at a very crowded function, music going and calling names and numbers. Mark, who is not hearing impaired, couldn’t make out the names and numbers. I was picking up all around me. These hearing aids pick up all around you.”

“And here I was, a person with normal hearing, asking an impaired hearer what was being said,” Mark Krywko said.

There are three levels of the Opn hearing aid, Krywko said.

“The most economical model of the Opn will start at $4,500 for a pair,” Krywko said. “For the very best you are looking at $7,000 for a set. The difference is how much extra noise is it going to keep out. It comes in degrees.”

The Oticon website lists the local outlets carrying the Opn as Ear Tech, 941-747-8193, Adept Audiology, 941-312-4781, Manatee Ear Center, 941-745-1518 and HearCare Audiology Center, 941-225-2230.

Richard Dymond: 941-745-7072, @RichardDymond

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