As you get older, your ability to hear clearly may suffer. Millions of people experience some form of hearing loss as they age, which has led many companies and researchers to develop products that help people regain their hearing.
The term “hearing aid” is used as a catch-all to describe any device that helps improve hearing, but it isn’t entirely accurate. Hearing aids are expensive, and not suited for all people - and they’re medical devices that typically require prescriptions.
But, there is another category of products that help people hear that may work for you if you aren’t ready for a full hearing aid. Devices for the hearing impaired such as personal sound amplifiers and alerting devices are direct-to-customer products that can help you hear better without needing a doctor’s prescription.
In this complete guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about these popular devices, including the types of devices, the benefits of these hearing devices, top brands of hearing devices, and how to pick the best one for your needs (and if you're a research nerd, make sure to check out our directory of scientific studies on hearing devices).
Let’s get started!
What are Personal Sound Amplifiers (aka PSAP Hearing Devices)?
PSAP Hearing Devices are small electronic devices that make it easier for people with hearing limitations to hear and communicate with the world around them. There are more than 30 million people in the US who are living with some form of hearing loss, according to Arch Internal Medicine. These devices are designed to help this large group of people live lives that aren’t hindered by a lack of hearing.
People often confuse PSAP Hearing Devices with medically prescribed hearing aids. While they are similar devices, hearing aids are more expensive and harder to obtain without a prescription. PSAP Hearing Devices are intended to act as “hearing aid lite”- devices that do a similar job, but for people who don’t need a full hearing aid. They’re best suited for people with light to moderate hearing loss.
PSAP Hearing Devices have been shown in research to help people with hearing impairments function better and hear things more clearly. Depending on the device used, people with up to 95% hearing loss can experience restored hearing and communicate as though they had no impairment, according to a study conducted by Towson University.
If you use your TV at a very high volume level, have trouble hearing people in noisy areas, or feel like people are constantly whispering to you during phone calls, a PSAP Hearing Device might be just what you need. There are many different types of these devices, each with its own strengths and weaknesses:
What Are the Main Types of Personal Sound Amplifiers?
Hearing amplifiers look similar to modern earbuds: a small device that you place into your ear. But, instead of playing music, hearing amplifiers have microphones that absorb the sound around you in real-time and play it into your ears, loud enough for you to hear.
Hearing amplifiers come in many shapes and sizes, some that are small enough to be hard to see in your ear and others that look like large exercise headphones. You can also find them across a wide range of budgets, from $30 to more than $200.
The only trouble with hearing amplifiers is that, because there are so many different options, it’s very hard to know whether or not the hearing amplifiers you’re considering are actually worth the money. Some top brands include Britzgo, Enjoyee, and Reizen, as well as inexpensive brands such as Banglijian and Otofonix.
You keep the device in your pocket or clipped to your belt and wear headphones that amplify the sounds around you. Many devices also have a detachable microphone that you can hand to someone or place near someone that you’re having trouble hearing.
These devices are ideal for talking to people across large rooms, listening during meetings, and hearing people with soft voices, such as grandchildren. Pocket talkers are a bit bulkier than earbud-style hearing amplifiers, but they also tend to be very effective and have long-lasting batteries.
TV Hearing Devices
Some people purchase larger and more powerful speakers to overcome difficulty hearing the TV. Others use closed captioning to make sure they don’t miss out on any dialogue that is spoken too quietly. These are great options, but turning the TV volume all the way up can be distracting for others in your home, and closed captioning can obstruct your views of the show/movie you’re watching.
TV hearing devices place the source of audio much closer to you than the screen is. Certain devices, like the ChairSpeaker, are a TV speaker that sits nicely on your couch, putting the speakers next to your ear. Other devices are nothing more than comfortable sets of headphones that connect to your TV and play the audio into your ears directly. TV hearing devices are generally an excellent choice for people who cannot hear the TV at a normal volume, but they’re not very useful for other applications.
Sound Systems/Soundbars/Speakers for the Hearing Impaired
Getting a new soundbar or set of speakers is a great way to combat hearing loss when it comes to watching TV or listening to music while at home. Having a hearing impairment or any other sort of physical limitation can be somewhat embarrassing; no one wants to feel like they are different or noticeably limited. And, most TVs just don’t have the kind of sound quality that makes it easy for people with hearing limitations to use them effectively.
Sound systems and speakers let you deal with hearing loss, but they look like any other speaker- because they are just normal speakers. Bose, Harman Kardon, and Sony are great brands for TV speakers, soundbars, and surround sound systems. If you want to upgrade your home entertainment system in a way that helps you hear, buying a speaker is the way to go. You have a few different options:
Phones for the Hearing Impaired
Trying to hear someone on a phone with a hearing impairment is a lot like trying to ski in flip flops: unenjoyable and rarely successful. If your phone sounds quieter than ever, and having conversations feels impossible, you may want to upgrade to a phone that can accommodate your needs.
Phones for the hearing impaired, just like speakers, look just like traditional phones; it’s the hardware on the inside that counts. They project sound louder and more clearly than normal phones, and some have speakerphones that are quite loud, too. Most popular are hearing aid-compatible phones and amplified phones.
Getting yourself one of these phones can help you get back in touch with people you’ve been longing to call but haven’t, simply because you couldn’t hear them!
When shopping for a phone, you also need to make sure that it has an answering machine for the hearing impaired. Separate answering machines are a thing of the past, but many phones for the hearing impaired have built-in answering machines and easy-to-read digital interfaces. If you miss a lot of calls or typically do important business over the phone, you need a way to listen to your voicemail despite difficulty hearing things. If you’re tired of playing your voicemails back, over and over, trying to get relevant information, you need to make sure that your new phone has a good answering machine!
What are Alerting Devices?
Alerting devices cover a range of home electronics and other devices. What they all have in common, though, is that they help alert you to different things. Whether that’s helping you wake up, letting you know about visitors, voicemails, or intruders, these devices are there to let you know what’s happening.
If you have a hearing impairment, standard alerting devices may not work well enough for you to hear them. This is especially true if you are on the other side of the house from the device; you might never hear a knock at your door if your doorbell isn’t loud enough to alert you!
Similarly, a smoke detector that is too quiet isn’t just a nuisance- it’s a life-threatening problem. You need to make sure that every essential device in your home can be heard throughout your home. Otherwise, you risk running into very dangerous situations.
What Are the Main Types of Alerting Devices?
Smoke detectors are loud enough for most people, but those who use hearing aids may not be able to pick them up when their hearing aids are turned off. If you have a hearing impairment that makes hearing from across the house difficult, you need a louder smoke detector.
There are two types of smoke detectors for people with hearing impairments. The first are normal smoke detectors that are simply much, much louder. The second type are smoke detectors that, in addition to sound, use extremely bright lights to alert people to the danger. If you are deaf or almost deaf, a smoke detector with flashing lights is a must-have.
Furthermore, you should take care to make sure your smoke detectors are wired together, especially if you live in a larger home with more than one floor. When wired together, a smoke alarm that is triggered in one room will trigger all the others. This is a much safer way to have smoke detectors, and a very necessary step for people with hearing impairments to take.
Waking up in the morning is hard enough for most of us as it is. Having to wake up to your alarm with a hearing impairment? Well, that’s just unfair! To combat this morning disadvantage, you need an alarm clock that can wake you up despite your difficulties with hearing.
Just like smoke detectors, alarm clocks for people with hearing impairments use more than just louder sounds, although they do get pretty loud. Some alarm clocks, such as the ANJAK Extra Loud Alarm Clock, use vibration to shake you out of your slumber. Others ignore sound altogether and are just small devices you place on your bed that vibrates when it’s time to get up in the morning.
The biggest issue with alarm clocks for the hearing impaired is that they don’t tend to be very affordable. Whereas you can get a cheap digital alarm clock at your local supermarket for about $17, an alarm clock for people with hearing impairments can cost three to four times as much. There are many affordable models, but they are still typically more expensive than a standard alarm clock.
The longer it takes you to hear the doorbell ringing, the longer your guests will be waiting outside, and the more embarrassing it will be when you finally hear them. Moreover, important deliveries and other visits require you to be able to hear your doorbell the first time it rings, not the fifth! Thankfully, there are many doorbell/entryway alert systems that can help people with difficulties hearing.
The most modern option is to get a wifi-enabled doorbell and home speaker/virtual assistant, a la Amazon’s Alexa. With an Alexa-enabled device in each room and a Ring doorbell, you can be notified with sound, light, or even video whenever someone arrives at your door! Having a virtual assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Home makes it easy to do a lot of things, not just answer the door.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys a bit of tech convenience, this type of doorbell system is the way to go. Many models that connect to wifi also have video cameras that act as a home security system, preventing thieves (aka “Porch Pirates”) from stealing your packages or mail and deterring break-ins.
If you choose not to go that route, you can also get a wireless doorbell. These devices come in two pieces: the doorbell that your guests will press and the speaker that you’ll keep with you in far away rooms. For example, if your basement is far from the front door, you can use this alarm to be able to hear people when they come, even if you’re nowhere near the door.
What are the Best Places to Buy Personal Sound Amplifiers and Alerting Devices?
The world’s largest online marketplace, Amazon is one of the best ways to buy nearly any item, including personal sound amplifiers and alerting devices. They carry a large range of products, across all budgets and specific needs. The selection for most items on Amazon is far larger than that of physical stores, giving you all the choices you could ever want.
One of the best parts about shopping on Amazon is that you can have your items delivered extremely fast. If you need solutions soon, Amazon can sometimes be faster than going store to store and hearing the employees say, “we don’t have that in stock, but we can order it for you”!
Amazon also has a lenient return policy, allowing customers to return items that don’t fit their needs and opt for replacements. This allows you, if need be, to test out different items without being saddled to your first purchase.
They’re not just the largest supermarket chain in the country. Wal-Mart, in an effort to keep up with online marketplaces such as Amazon, has adopted a leading-edge home delivery model that rivals Amazon’s in terms of quality and speed. Though they don’t have quite as large of a selection as Amazon, you can generally trust the items you find here because they’ve been more thoroughly vetted.
With a large number of stores across the country and a decent selection of products for people with hearing impairments, CVS is one of the few places you can walk into and buy a personal sound amplifier. If you already use CVS Pharmacies to fill your prescriptions, you can check out their selection!
Their in-person selection isn’t nearly as large as their online offerings, but Wal-Mart’s retail stores do have a fair amount of personal sound amplifiers and alerting devices on the shelves. You can find the store nearest to you here.
This is an excellent place if you’re looking for TV speakers, home stereo systems, Alexa-enabled devices, and video doorbells. There are hundreds of Best Buy stores across the country, and their staff is very helpful. If you need advice on which alarm clock, TV speaker, or doorbell to choose, Best Buy staff have the knowledge you need.
If you don’t have hearing loss that requires a hearing aid yet, you may benefit greatly from inexpensive and convenient Personal Sound Amplifiers and Alerting Devices. These products aren’t as intense as hearing aids and can be just as helpful for people who cannot hear clearly without assistance. Do you have any questions about PSAPs or Alerting Devices, or have advice for other readers? Leave your comments below!