Airports still catching up with hearing aid technology

Q: I have a new hearing aid, and I love it. It’s digital, has background-noise suppression and a directional mike. I can join in an animated conversation with several friends in a busy restaurant. But last week, I almost missed a flight because I didn’t hear an announcement about a gate change. I couldn’t understand anything coming over the public-address system. Can’t they clean up their end of the noise problem? — Clair B., Seattle

A: We fly a lot, and we know exactly what you’re talking about. The constant cacophony!

Fortunately, an international team of researchers is addressing that specific problem using something called synthetic speech. They’ve created a computer program that can enhance the parts of speech that are most easily heard and understood, especially in noisy situations. And the software manipulates the sounds so that they can be more easily deciphered even at lower decibels. The whole environment becomes quieter and yet everyone can hear what is being said more clearly.

That’s a lot like what happens with the new technology in your hearing aid. The old hearing aids simply amplified sound. Now the sound is digitally processed and the hearing aid can block out background noise. You might say synthetic speech creates a hearing aid for the general public. And synthetic speech applications range far beyond PA announcements in airports, train stations and sporting venues; they include smartphone conversations and advanced military communications.

But until all airports start using this technology, one way to make sure you and your airline are on the same page is to download their app to your smartphone or tablet. Almost all airlines have ’em, and you can use them to check your flights, gate, seat assignment, frequent flyer miles, the whole bit. Then you’ll make your flight with no stress — and we hope that your in-flight movie is “Noises Off”!

Q: My mother is 77, and she has put on a lot of weight since she retired. Now she has diabetes, and she’s finding it harder to get around. She knows she’s in bad shape, but she doesn’t think anything helps. What can I do? — Meredith K., Land-O-Lakes, Fla.

A: It’s never too late to take charge of your health and to live better and younger! You just need to help your mom see that she still has power over how she feels and what she does.

It’s possible she’s depressed, so if she’ll talk about it, start there. You also should get her doctor involved (the American Medical Association is working to help primary care physicians take a more active role in cases like your mom’s). Her PCP can not only look at which medications might be causing her problems or which could help her overcome them (would anti-inflammatories make it less painful to walk?), but he or she also can help you identify environmental issues, such as stairs in her house, that are holding her back.

But she may need some tough love, so she’ll get involved in making herself feel better. Start in the kitchen by helping her plan healthier meals that will increase her energy and reduce her weight. And get her moving!

For great menu and recipe ideas go to my.clevelandclinic.org and search for recipes or check out “YOU on a Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management.” To encourage exercise, buy her a pedometer. She’ll be able to see her progress from 10 minutes and a few hundred steps to ever-more time and distance. And call her daily to make sure she is taking more steps each day.

If she’s resistant, you can point out there’s been some very good research showing mobility is essential if she wants to keep her independence. She’s going to have to work at it, but she actually might enjoy this process. And she’ll definitely like the end results. Good luck!

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.FeaturesHealth & Fitness

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