The Real Deal

Artificial intelligence improves hearing, communication and more.

A lot of what happened aboard the space shuttle when it traveled into space was controlled by someone sitting at a desk at the Kennedy Space Center. Someone such as Steve Bales.

Steve is benefitting greatly from the latest advances in hearing-aid technology.

Before he moved into logistics, where he helped coordinate the center’s supply chain, Steve programmed and executed operations such as opening the doors to the shuttle’s payload bay and triggering the air conditioning inside the craft’s Spacelab.

“I was also a programmer on the team that built a new launch control system for the shuttle, but the government canned that project just as we were finishing it and laid us all off,” Steve remembers. “But that’s OK, I still had fun doing it.”

Steve, 66, recently retired from NASA, where he played a role in the shuttle mission that returned Sen. John Glenn to space in 1998. What’s most amazing about that and Steve’s other accomplishments is that he achieved them with a hearing disability.

“I have never been able to hear out of my right ear, because it never quite developed properly,’’ Steve reveals. “And then, in 2009, I suffered what’s known as a sudden sensorineural hearing loss in my left ear.”

Also referred to as sudden deafness, a sudden sensorineural hearing loss typically occurs because of a malfunction of the sensory organs of the inner ear and often results in the rapid loss of all hearing in that ear over a period of hours or days. In Steve’s case, he lost all the hearing in his left ear in only three hours. That sparked a long journey that resulted in Steve being fit with hearing aids.

The science and technology of hearing aids has improved dramatically since then, and Steve has sought to keep pace, often upgrading to models featuring the newest innovations. His latest swap was engineered by Beatrice McCabe, HAS, at EarCare in Merritt Island.

Steve has been visiting Bea at EarCare since 2011, when he began wearing devices that allowed him to hear phone conversations directly through his hearing aids. In time, however, those began to fail.

A full diagnostic hearing exam by Karen Cowan-Oberbeck, AUD, confirmed that “The problem I eventually ran into was that I could no longer hear consonants,” Steve says. “Because of that, I couldn’t hear the beginning or ending of a lot of words, and that made it hard for me to understand complete sentences.

“I felt like my cognitive ability was beginning to decline. I noticed that I was forgetting things and wasn’t talking as much because I couldn’t understand what people were saying. So I was staying out of conversations.

“It was either that or I was always apologizing and asking people to repeat what they said, which I didn’t like doing. So, I eventually reached a point where I was rather desperate to find something better, and Bea really came through for me.”

More Than Words

Bea fit Steve with Starkey® Livio Edge AI hearing aids that are powered by artificial intelligence, a technology that does more than simply improve the wearer’s ability to better understand the spoken word. They also reduce wind noise, machine noise and other ambient sounds that can disrupt speech recognition. They can even be programmed to measure physical activity levels and track how often the wearer interacts with others.

“It has 3D sensors that measure whether you’re running, exercising or standing up, but the part I like the most is the part that measures how conversant you are,” Steve says. “Since I got these hearing aids, that part has improved dramatically for me.”

Through an app called Thrive, Steve’s hearing aids also allow family members to track the wearer’s activity. They even include fall detection, which can be programmed to alert up to three people if the wearer falls.

These hearing aids are amazing.” – Steve

“These hearing aids have three gyroscopes in them, and that’s what enables the fall detection sensors,’’ Bea explains. “The sensors trigger a message to the patients’ chosen contacts, who can be a family member or even someone out of state. When the messages go out, if you didn’t actually fall or if you did fall and are OK, you have time to intercept or cancel. It’s a really nice feature, especially for someone who is living alone.”

Another feature Steve has taken advantage of allows him to automatically boost speech sounds. He finds that particularly useful since the spread of the coronavirus has resulted in people wearing face coverings, which can muffle speech.

He’s also made use of the table microphone, a device that improves hearing in group settings. It consists of a small disc containing eight microphones, which when placed in the center of the table determines the primary speakers voice and streams it directly to Steve’s hearing aids.

“Steve really loves that feature,’’ Bea reports. “He loves it so much he ordered two of the devices. And he’s really doing well with the hearing aids. He’s enjoying learning about all the AI features, and I know he’s hearing better than he has in years.”

Translation, Please?

“These hearing aids are amazing,’’ Steve confirms. “They really are. They even have a translation feature that will translate different languages. And they interface with the Amazon Alexa, so I can use them to turn the lights on in a room, play music or search the internet.

“I am thrilled with these hearing aids. They’re the best I’ve had, and I appreciate that Bea and EarCare put me in them. She truly works hard to fix your problem, whatever it is, so that you can hear better. And she’s so personable and nice. I feel very fortunate that I found her because I was struggling to hear before I met her. But ever since then, she’s always been there for me.
She’s just great, and I gladly recommend her to anyone.”

Print This Article
    • EarCare, P.A.

      EarCare provides a wide variety of audiological services, including industrial audiological monitoring, hearing aid evaluations and dispensing, hearing aid repairs for all makes and models, and special audiological diagnostics.... Read More

    • Karen Cowan-Oberbeck, AuD, CCC-FAAA

      Catherine (Karen) Cowan-Oberbeck, AuD, CCC-FAAA, completed her undergraduate work at the University of South Florida, Tampa. She earned her Master of Arts degree from the University of Central Florida, Orlando, and her Doctor of Audiology d... Read More

    • Beatrice McCabe, HAS

      Beatrice McCabe, HAS, is a licensed hearing aid specialist. Her specialty areas include personal communication assistance, cerumen management, audiometrics and assistive listening devices.... Read More