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Peterborough

Lending an ear

T-coil technology helping hearing aid wearers enjoy a night out at the theater

Hope Pettegrew of Hancock has never missed a Peterborough Players’ show. Even when her hearing started to fail in the 1990s, she soldiered on, still attending even when she was getting most of the dialogue from her husband sitting next to her, instead of hearing it firsthand. She made do for some time with one of the aids that the Players’ provide for those hard of hearing — a headset that amplifies the sound. But eventually, even that began to fail her.

But now, Pettegrew is able to enjoying the Players’ performances firsthand again, just by flipping a switch on her hearing aid.

That’s because strung around the Peterborough Players theater is a wire loop circling the room and connected to a sound system. The loop transmits sound electromagnetically, and the signal is picked up by a telephone coil, commonly known as a t-coil, or telecoil, receiver in a person’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. Those who are hard of hearing simply flip on their “T-switch” in their hearing aid to activate their t-coil, and they can then better hear the actors and actresses who are equipped with a microphone.

“It’s not totally clear as a bell, but it certainly, certainly helps,” said Pettegrew in a recent interview. Turning on her T-switch turns off the regular function of her hearing aid, and locks her in to the information being fed to her from the loop, she said, so outside elements like the laughter or cheers of the audience — things that lend to the atmosphere of the theater — are blocked out. And sometimes she can lose a line if an actor is standing too far back from the microphones at the head of the stage.

“But it’s certainly much better than not being able to hear at all,” joked Pettegrew.

Not every hearing aid has a t-coil switch, but there are hearing aids covered by Medicaid that are available with t-coil, according to Dr. Noelle Paradis, a licensed audiologist at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center. A hearing aid might need to be slightly larger in order to accommodate the technology, said Paradis, but most clients she works with are interested in it for the main purpose it was developed — to speak on the telephone. According to a 2008 study done by Hearing Review, more than 60 percent of the population who use hearing aids use those that are t-coil equipped. The New Hampshire Academy of Audiology has been assisting in a push for facilities in the state to install loops, to transmit electromagnetic signals for those with the T-switch in their hearing aids. But despite the technology being around for more than 50 years, it’s not something that’s seen much in smaller towns, said Paradis.

“In our little local areas here, it’s still pretty rare,” said Paradis. “We’re fortunate that the Peterborough Players have it.”

Other areas that have a t-coil loop are the Manchester Airport and The Christa McAuliffe Center in Framingham.

The Peterborough Players isn’t the only place in Peterborough, though, that takes advantage of the technology. RiverMead Lifecare in Peterborough, a retirement community, also uses a t-coil and loop system to allow their residents to get the most enjoyment out of their lecture, movie and music events.

Jan Eaton, the director of resident services and marketing at RiverMead, said last week that the retirement community started by putting a loop system in its auditorium for lecture events. That was so successful, she said, they decided to expand to include the dining room. And when RiverMead built new facilities last year, a t-coil loop was built into their movie theater and their village hall. For most of their residents, said Eaton, the loop is a big help when it comes to being able to hear. But it’s not a perfect system, she explained.

Dr. Richard Carvalho of Peterborough, a resident at RiverMead, joked that he has few claims to fame, but one that he can make is that he likely has the worst hearing of anyone at RiverMead. When RiverMead first was putting in a t-coil loop, Carvalho was the first tester of the system — to less than rousing success, he said.

“I have a top-of-the-line hearing aid, and it’s adjusted to the max. It helps in one-on-one conversations, but anytime I’m somewhere where there’s background noise, it kills my hearing,” said Carvalho. “The t-coil loop doesn’t really help my situation.”

Despite knowing that those with severe hearing loss don’t get much use out of the loop, Eaton said the majority of those with hearing issues find it useful. About a quarter of RiverMead residents use the loop, she said, and find that it helps them hear.

RiverMead is in the budgeting process now, she said, and hopes to set aside enough funds to put t-coil loops in some of its conference rooms.

“We want them to be anywhere there might be meetings, to make it accessible to more people,” Eaton said.

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