The fire alarm goes off or the doorbell rings, but you cannot hear it. Maybe the baby is crying or 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 based on the sound, but for people with hearing loss, this is often not possible. Additional alerting methods are required. Luckily, many options exist and new ones are being developed all the time.
Make the Alert Louder
If you can’t hear an alert, one option is to make it louder. The most common products with adjustable volume alerts are telephones, doorbells, and alarm clocks. These amplified alerts can be very loud — up to 100 decibels or more when activated. Several brands of landline telephones including Panasonic and AT&T offer this type of product. Extra loud ringtones are also available for most smartphones.
While loud tone alerts can be effective for people with hearing loss, they can also be dangerous. Depending on the volume, loud sound alerts can damage residual hearing, particularly for people close to the alert speaker. According to the NIDCD, two minutes of exposure to sounds at 110 dBs or more can cause permanent hearing loss.
Make the Alert Visual
A better option may be using visual alerts where the alert sound at normal volume 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 auditory alert systems have a visual alert option built in so both are activated simultaneously. Others are separate units you place next to the speaker of the audible alert. When a tone is detected, a separate visual signal is activated. Depending on the size of your home, multiple receivers may be needed so the flash is visible from every room.
Visual alerts also work on some smartphones for calls and text messages. For iPhone, look in the Audio/Visual Hearing category under Accessibility to turn on LED flash for alerts. Visual alerts are available on some Android phones, but not on others. Check the Notifications settings before purchasing if this is a critical feature for you.
Make the Alert Tactile
Tactile alerts are great for alarm clocks, baby alarms as well as emergency situations where you might otherwise sleep through an auditory or visual alert. Place a vibrating pad under your mattress or pillow to be shaken awake when a designated alert sounds. You can also set up tactile alerts from your smartphone via a smartwatch or exercise tracker. Link the two, and you can feel your phone ringing or a text message coming in right on your wrist.
Let Your Smartphone Alert You
Smartphones are getting smarter every day and soon will be able to alert you to ambient sounds like doorbells, smoke alarms and the like. Apple’s new iOS includes sound recognition alerts where your iPhone will notify you whenever it detects one of the sounds you select for monitoring. Choices include a variety of alarms (fire, siren, smoke), household sounds (doorbells, door knocking, water running) as well as animal sounds and people sounds like a baby crying. Android phones can accomplish similar functions via apps or through a new Sound Notifications feature.
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 which ones they recommend for your specific hearing challenges.
Readers, what alerting devices do you find helpful?
A version of this article was originally published in The Hearing Journal. Reproduced with their permission.