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.
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22 thoughts on “Alerting Devices for People with Hearing Loss”
This is a really important post. Thank you for writing it. Just want to share my experience with a strobe light smoke alarm system that I had professionally installed. Cost was about $1200. The smoke alarms are manufactured by BTK under the name First Alert. I admit that I am very frustrated with the system since it appears to be very susceptible to false alarms.
I need it because I have bilateral cochlear implants and I am completely deaf without it. However when it goes off the alarm’s ear-splitting aural alarm may actually be damaging my normal-hearing wife’s ears. The strobe creates a confusion. Especially for someone waking out of a sound sleep. I don’t know what it might do to someone suffering from epilepsy.
I need it and we are keeping it, but I do wish there was something less expensive, more reliable, and safer out there.
I agree. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Loud alarms are not an answer. I lost what was left of my hearing in my left ear to a extra loud fire alarm. An fire alarm for a machinery floor was installed in a quiet control room. The alarm was still bought off by safety. Of my original high tone hearing loss, 30% in my left ear, 70% in my right. After the noise exposure . Left ear is zero .
Wow, that is awful. Thank you for sharing this important warning!
Hi, here in UK those with hearing loss can get lots of gadgets free. The Occupational Health Service helps all those with impairments.
I have a doorbell which rings loudly and flashes!
A ‘hearing dog’ might be my future friend.
Excellent! Thanks for sharing what works for you.
My husband’s hearing dog is the best blessing! We had trouble finding guidance in purchasing gadgets and I happened to stumble upon an amazing organization when I was googling for resources. Our local deaf community center was no help at all so luckily I’m a self starter and an advocate for my husband and this blog helped probably the most in pushing me to not give up. Our dog brings tears to others eyes when the see her work! She is amazing!!
That is wonderful! So glad you found this lovely solution.
I am severely hearing impaired not being able to hear normal alerts has always caused me anxiety. Technology has vastly helped. I am always amazed that many of the products I find useful aren’t marketed for the hard of hearing/deaf community.
The first addition I made was an apple watch, I don’t have any audible alerts turned on on my iPhone-which is only used for texting, I do use the led flash and vibration mode which is great, if I am either holding the phone or it’s where I can see it. By adding an apple watch – I not only get the haptic alert, but can see the imessage on the watch. I use the timer on the watch for everything, since I can’t hear the timer on my oven, or an alarm clock.
I recently added a Google home hub max, a next doorbell and lift master garage door openers. Linked everything to the hub, my phone/watch. I get a haptic alert when the door bell rings, I can see who is at door, I know when a garage door is opened. Technology has been a game changer for me.
I love my Apple watch for the same reasons. Thank you for sharing what works for you.
Our regular dog is my “hearing dog” and helps with things like the doorbell and other loud sounds. She sleeps on our bed, so she’s also our nighttime canary in a coalmine so to speak. If she wakes up in the middle of the night, I have a sound level display I can glance at and see if there is anything loud going on. (These displays are for controlling classroom loudness I presume, but mine displays the sound level in dB using large red LED numbers).
Thank you for sharing what works for you.
As my hearing got worse, I frequently found myself sleeping through my wake-up alarm. A friend told me about the Sonic Alarm clock, which has an extra-loud beep and also causes the bed to vibrate just enough to wake me. It sounded far-fetched but I’ve had it for several years now and it keeps me on schedule. I think it was about $40 at the time and available on line. Thank you for your always-useful column.
Thank you for sharing your tips.
Since you have a hearing wife and I assume she sleeps with you, why can’t she be your alerting system?
Spouses can be a big help for alerts. My hearing husband is, but sometimes he travels for work. Thanks for your comment.
Thanks for the heads up about that iPhone feature, that’s great! I find my apple watch very useful as an accessibility device – it alerts me to phone calls, text messages, etc. through a tactile alert. But I didn’t know it could be used for fire alarms. Without my hearing aids, I often can’t hear fire alarms, even if they are ear-splittingly loud, because the pitch is too high. It’s puzzling to me why they so often are high-pitched, given how many people can’t hear high-pitched sounds.
So glad you found it helpful. Thanks for your comment.
I am still trying to find an alert device that will work for me, so far nothing has been helpful. I do not hear much at all without my hearing devices. Vibrating bed devices are not reliable as I have a mattress that absorbs much of the vibration. And I need to be alerted to more than just the alarm clock at times when I am not sleeping but do not have my hearing devices on. I have tried numerous smart watches but there vibrations are simply not enough to wake me. I still often miss the vibration during the day and am never woken with it. I also tried the dedicated band for sound awareness but that offered was less vibration then any of the smart watches. Flashing lights do not work for me and loud alarms would likely wake the neighbors well before waking me. I am so disappointed that technology does not have more to offer.
I am sorry none of the options are working well for you. I find my Apple Watch very helpful in alerting me to things. Perhaps your audiologist may have additional ideas. Thank you for your comment.
Teresa Dominguez, what is “the dedicated band for sound awareness”? I’m curious about this.
I forgot to mention that I use a Watchminder 3 to wake up.