Last year, the BBC reported that more and more hearing aid users are programming their own hearing aids. Here, in the second part of a three-part series, Limping Chicken reader Robert Mandara explains how to do it.
In my last article I suggested why you might want to program your own hearing aids. In this article I present an overview of what you need to be able to do it. In the third and final part, I will provide some tips for how to do it.
Disclaimer: Whatever you do is at your own risk! Don’t blame me!
To program your hearing aids, you usually need three things:
- A hardware interface to go between your computer and hearing aids
- Cables to connect the interface to your hearing aids
Keep your eyes open! You can learn a lot, just by watching your audiologists. For example, notice the software/hardware they’re using, the workflow and how they connect cables to your hearing aid type.
Note: In Europe the hardware may be classed as medical devices and software is intended for audiologists. You might have to jump through hoops to obtain what you need.
Let’s look at each of the things you need in more detail.
Phonak’s iPFG 2.5a software
Before anything else, you need to obtain the correct software for your hearing aids. Manufacturers create dedicated PC-based software applications which usually cover several hearing aid models. The software versions are updated as new models of hearing aid are added. For example, Phonak hearing aids, use “PFG” or “iPFG” software, available online: http://www.phonakpro.com/com/b2b/en/professional_tools/fitting_equipment/software/downloads.html
To identify and obtain the right software, you can use a search engine, ask your audiologist nicely for a CD, or ask the manufacturer directly. The NHS sometimes renames products so you might need to identify the original hearing aid name. For example, Phonak’s Naída is called Nathos by the NHS.
After locating the software, install it and explore as much as you can (you can’t explore everything without hearing aids connected). If it looks too complicated for you, quit before wasting money on hardware. Unfortunately, written instructions for using software are as rare as rocking horse poo.
Contents of the Hi-Pro USB box
The most common hardware interface is probably the “Hi-Pro USB” (HPUSB). It works with most hearing aids. Your audiologist most likely uses this or another Hi-Pro product.
Older Hi-Pro interfaces use a serial communications link and external power supply. If you buy one of these, make sure that the AC voltage matches your supply voltage and be patient because the serial connection is very slow. The modern USB version is a much better product. It’s faster and is powered via the USB cable so you don’t need to worry about supply voltage.
Although Hi-Pro is made by GN Otometrics in Denmark, you’re unlikely to find a new one for sale in Europe. For that reason, look on eBay from the USA or China for example. A HPUSB will currently set you back £300-£350. It’s not cheap but it’s a small price to pay to change your life. Be aware that fakes are rumoured to exist – unfortunately, even real ones look fake because they’re made from a nasty white plastic.
Some manufacturers also produce their own hardware interfaces. For example, Phonak created the iCube for use with their products. The potential benefit of the iCube is that programming is wireless so you don’t need trailing cables to your hearing aids. They’re hard to find and cost roughly the same as the HPUSB. Unless you’ll only ever wear Phonak hearing aids, I think the HPUSB is the more future-proof option.
Cables between the interface and hearing aids
Three types of programming cables
Unless you use a wireless interface, you will need cables to connect the interface to your hearing aids. If you have two hearing aids, it’s better to use two cables. However, you only need one cable to program one at a time. Cables are colour-coded red (right) and blue (left) but, electrically, they’re the same.
There are many different cable types and adapters. You must get exactly the right code! For example, the CS44 and CS44a are completely different cables and are not interchangeable although they look identical. For Phonak, you can see the different cable types and the hearing aid models they’re used with here:
Many hearing aids have a flap which must be prised open to connect the cables. ITE and some BTE hearing aids may require the battery flap to be removed with a special tool so that an adapter can be fitted into the battery compartment.
Unfortunately cables are expensive; currently around £50 each. If you can’t find them on eBay, you can still find suppliers on the web. It’s worth asking the supplier of your HPUSB if they can supply cables at the same time. If your audiologist is friendly towards self-programming, it might be worth asking if s/he has spare cables which you could have or borrow.
The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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