5 strategies for using the myPhonak Junior app to help children learn self-advocacy

Features in the myPhonak Junior app allow children to participate in their hearing healthcare with support from their parents and audiologist.

Do you have children in your practice who are learning how to manage their hearing aids?

Preparing children to advocate for their hearing needs is a process that takes place over several years. It begins early as toddlers hand their parents their hearing aid to let them know that it’s not working.

Later, as children gain dexterity, they want to learn how to put the hearing aid on themselves, and can help with simple care steps such as putting the hearing aids in the charger at night. When children enter school their advocacy needs expand, and they take on more responsibility.

Of course, children’s views about their hearing and devices should be shared freely and should be respected and given due weight given age and maturity of the child.1

There are different ways to support learning these self-advocacy skills. We recently trialed the myPhonak Junior app and believe that it can be a valuable tool in at least these five different ways:

  1. Monitor hearing aid use – the app provides average hours of daily use. Provide a goal, and children can monitor how they are doing as they work towards reaching the target number of hours. Consistent audibility is important for success in school2 and engaging children in managing use can help them practice problem-solving challenges that arise.
  2. Plan for battery charge – the app provides the percent of battery charge. Children can plan for when to charge their hearing aids to make sure the hearing aids are charged and ready for their day. Monitoring battery usage can help children learn hearing aid maintenance skills.
  3. Notice listening environments – the app includes information about noise reduction and speech focus to help children understand which environments may be difficult for them and how to adjust the speech focus slider in the app.
  4. Customize for difficult listening environments – the app allows for adjusting volume, noise reduction and microphone directionality so children can take initiative when they need to make adjustments in those environments.
  5. Learn quick tips & how to use remote support— the app provides tips for children to ensure they are maintaining their devices and learning how to troubleshoot appropriately.

Other quick tips in the app include: “How to use your hearing aid the right way”, “How to maintain your hearing aid the right way”, “Troubleshooting tips if there is no sound coming from your hearing aid”, and “Troubleshooting tips if your hearing aid whistles”.

If more help is needed, parents and children can connect to the audiologist remotely through the app for real-time support.

With our support, children can become strong self-advocates

Parents and audiologists play a critical role in supporting children in learning advocacy skills that are important for effective hearing management. This also supports the idea of Child-Centered Care (CCC) and allows the child to participate in their hearing healthcare with support from their parents and audiologist.

Learning self-advocacy is a process that works towards children being able to:3
·       Describe their own skills and needs
·       Set their own goals and create a plan to reach them
·       Know the how, who, and when to ask for assistance
·       Make decisions and then take the responsibility to deal with the consequences of them.

Resources to help you support parents and children

There are many resources available that promote advocacy.

• Hear to Learn – Help children use and care for hearing devices
• Hands & Voices – Self-advocacy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students
• Ida Institute – Growing up with hearing loss
• Supporting Success for Children with Hearing loss – Self-advocacy skills for students with hearing loss
• Phonak – Hearing and me templates to talk about hearing loss, Guide to Access Planning (GAP) for teensSelf-advocacy checklist for teens

To learn more about the myPhonak Junior app, please visit www.phonakpro.com.

Deaf comedian makes quarterfinals on AGT

Season 17 of “America’s Got Talent” kicked off at the end of May, 2022. After being inspired by other deaf contestants, deaf comedian Hayden Kristal (they/them/theirs) announced that they wanted to “pursue this for [themselves].” Kristal is now a quarterfinalist after performing a wickedly funny story on episode three of this season’s AGT.

Multitalented Deaf Comedian 

Deaf comedian Hayden Kristal — who identifies as deaf, bisexual, queer, and Jewish — was born into an all hearing family in Colorado. After majoring in sign language and zoology and pursuing a career as a zookeeper, Kristal decided that comedy was their true passion. Kristal jokingly introduces themselves as “a Brooklyn-based former zookeeper who gave up a lucrative career in salamanders to pursue comedy and public speaking” on their website.

“I think…early on, I found that comedy is a language everybody understands,” Hayden said in her pre-performance interview.

“Comedy is a language everybody understand”

Path to Success

Before auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” (AGT) this year, Kristal appeared on “Stand Up NBC” and made it to the semifinals.

“If I say something and you laugh at it, that’s a connection,” Kristal mentions before going on stage. “I always love that feeling.”

For those who have never watched the nationally televised show, America’s Got Talent is a talent competition where contestants from all over the country perform. Celebrity judges decide if a contestant can move from one stage to the next until a winner is crowned with a million dollars in prize money. Currently being filmed in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Los Angelos, season 17 is now on its 13th episode.

Kristal presented on week three of AGT a short, yet hilarious, retelling of their application to the Gorilla Foundation. The foundation took care of the famous gorilla Koko, who knew sign language. While using self-deprecating wit, Kristal recounted that their application was rejected due to their deafness. Kristal outlined the discrimination that people with disabilities still receive. They also strung together an ironic tale that impressed both the judges and audience.

While Kristal started the performance in sign language, confusing the audience and judges, Kristal presented the rest of their story verbally with the help of sign language interpreter Julie. Although Kristal jokes that “I do like to start [with sign language] ’cause [it] makes heckling me a ADA violation,” Kristal performs most of their comedy sets in English.

On YouTube, Kristal’s performance has over 745K views. One user commented, “Now that’s what I call comedic timing! She put me on the floor.” Simon Cowell, known for being hard to please, added that it was “brilliantly funny.” Needless to say, Kristal earned an unanimous vote to proceed to the next stage of the competition.

Inspired by Past Comedians 

When asked why they wanted to compete on AGT, Hayden talked about past competitors whose performances encouraged them to pursue stand-up comedy. “This is one of the biggest stages in the world, and watching some of the people that AGT has given opportunities to has given me more confidence to pursue this for myself,” they said in the audition video.

During her performance, Kristal called out two particular comedians as her inspiration: D.J. Demers, a Phonak “hEARo” and deaf comedian who appeared on AGT in 2016, and Drew Lynch, a comedian with a speech impediment, who was runner-up of the 10th season.

“When I see other people with disabilities on this stage and thriving, I know that they were given the tools to be able to succeed here,” Kristal said before their AGT performance.

Read more: Talking with deaf comedian D.J. Demers on World Laughter Day

Activist

As deaf comedian, Kristal is also an activist. Over the past few years, they have spoken at many conferences and colleges across the country. In 2016, Kristal hosted their first Ted Talk on Intersectional Disability. With 660K followers on TikTok, Kristal uses their platform to explore “the intersections of ability, gender, sexuality, and access, particularly within the spheres of activism and social justice.”

Kristal’s past programs have included “Laughing Out Loud: Bridging Social Gaps Through Comedy” and “Lessons From My Deafblind Dog.” As one user commented, “So proud of Hayden. I follow [them] on TikTok and once I found out [they were] on AGT I was so happy for [them] and I just had to go watch it!”

Kristal is not sure what is waiting ahead, but as they said after the successful AGT audition, “to be here [performing], it’s unbelievable and I felt like I already won just making it to tonight.”

“America’s Got Talent” airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8pm EST on NBC.

Scientists discover “master gene” that regrows dead ear hair cells

Scientists in the U.S. have discovered a “master gene” that can regrow lost ear hair cells. It is known as TBX2.

Ear Hair Cells

TBX2 functions by directing ear cells to produce inner or outer hair cells, according to the findings, which were published in the journal Nature. For human hearing to work, we need both types of ear hair cells to work together. Inner hair cells transmit to the brain. Outer hair cells, which amplify sound, are frequently damaged by factors like age, medications, or even substance abuse. If the outer hair cells are missing or damaged, signals don’t get to the inner hair cells. As a result, they aren’t sent to the brain, and we don’t hear the sound.

Ear hair cell loss is a significant cause of hearing loss, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss, or SNHL – the type of hearing loss responsible for around 90 percent of hearing loss. The other 10 percent is usually attributed to conductive hearing loss or some form of blockage in the ear. Hair cells are sensory receptors within the ear that are essential towards processing sound. Lost or damaged ear hair cells reduce hearing capacity and contribute heavily towards hearing loss.

What Does TBX2 Do?

Scientists now believe they can reproduce these essential ear hair cells to replace those lost to age or damage. Recreating these cells is a significant step forward. This could be the start of a new form of gene therapy for hearing loss, according to researchers.

“This could be the start of a new form of gene therapy for hearing loss.”

The discovery builds on existing science whereby researchers can create artificial hair cells. However, these cells cannot develop into inner or outer ear hair cells, which is where TBX2 fits in. Researchers at Northwestern University investigated ear hair cells in mice and revealed that TBX2 is a regulator of inner ear hair cell versus outer ear hair cell production. Scientists analyzed hair cell creation concerning inner and outer ear hair cells. When a hair cell was created, blocking the TBX2 gene ensured that the cell was an outer hair cell.

Read more: Researchers find a drug combination that could regenerate ear hair cells

What Happens Next?

While the discovery is a major step forward in neuroscience, it’s uncertain what happens next. Scientists hope to figure out how to use this new knowledge to create a cell development process that may be usable in treating hearing loss. Currently, it’s possible to create artificial hair cells. This method can’t differentiate between inner and outer hair cells, so some work still needs to be done.

In theory, if scientists can regrow ear hair cells, then they are one step further towards repairing or restoring lost hearing. However, there is still a long way to go. There’s no guarantee that this discovery will in any way lead to a “cure” for hearing loss. It does offer some hope, however, that ear hair cells might be replaceable one day.

Ramsay Hunt syndrome and Hearing Loss

Justin Bieber, the Canadian-born singer/songwriter and global pop sensation, announced Friday that he has been diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder characterized by paralysis of the facial nerve, a rash affecting the ear or mouth, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss.

In a video posted on his Instagram account, the 28-year-old singer displayed signs of facial paralysis and expressed to his fans and followers that it was difficult to eat. He also showed how he was unable to smile on the right side of his face, blink his right eye and move his right nostril.

Ramsay Hunt syndrome affects about 5 of every 100,000 people each year in the United States, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). It is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which also causes chickenpox in children and shingles in adults. The disorder is also sometimes known as “herpes zoster oticus” because of the characteristic ear rash. However, physicians often use “herpes zostic oticus” only for the ear rash and “Ramsay Hunt syndrome” when the ear rash is accompanied by facial paralysis, according to NORD.

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome Prognosis

There is no way to prevent Ramsay Hunt syndrome, according to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Recovery can occur within a few weeks to several months, however chances of recovery are better if treatment begins within 3 days after the symptoms begin, according to Mount Sinai.

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory drugs, antiviral medicines and pain killers.

When left untreated, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome can result in permanent weakness of the facial muscles or hearing loss, according to Healthline.com.

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome and Hearing Loss

Most cases of Ramsay Hunt syndrome result in symptoms of facial paralysis, and a rash that affects the outer (pinna) and external ear canal, as well as the mouth and throat.

Tinnitus, or the sensation of ringing in the ear, is also a common symptom, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Some individuals can also develop sensorineural hearing loss, as a result of the affected auditory nerve not being able to transmit vibrations to the brain.

Read more: What is sensorineural hearing loss?

There is no clear correlation between the severity of facial weakness among patients with Ramsay Hunt syndrome and hearing loss, however, one study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry showed about 19% of patients had an abnormal audiogram.

According to a study in the journal “Medicine,” hearing loss was more severe in the high frequency range than in the low frequency range among patients with the Herpes zoster oticus virus. Hearing impairment was more severe in patients with vertigo than in those without vertigo in both the high and low frequency ranges. The degree of hearing impairment was not significantly different between patients with and without facial palsy (Ramsay Hunt Syndrome).

In another study by the Department of Otolaryngology, Ehime University School of Medicine in, Japan, complete recovery occurred in 85/173 (49%) adults and 33/42 (78%) patients younger than 16. Audiograms showed complete recovery in 66% of children with audiometry documented hearing loss compared with 37.7% of adults.

Read more: Why musicians should be more aware of hearing loss

Prevention and Recovery 

Ramsay Hunt syndrome is not contagious, according to the MayoClinic. While it can potentially still develop in anyone who has had the chickenpox, for people who haven’t had the chicken pox, a vaccine for the chickenpox virus and shingles is recommended.

Justin Bieber in recovery for Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

While recovering from Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, Justin Bieber has cancelled his upcoming tour dates and is practicing facial exercises as part of his healing, according to his Instagram post.

“I’m gonna get better,” he says in the video. “I’m doing all these facial exercises to get my face back to normal and it will go back to normal, it’s just time. We don’t know how much time it’s gonna be, but it’s gonna be okay.”

Phonak releases new Virto Paradise hearing aids

Phonak’s latest product, the Virto Paradise, is a custom-made hearing device which resembles a modern earbud. This revolutionary in-the-ear aid gives you all the benefits of the Paradise line, with customizable features and hands-free communication.

Phonak Virto Paradise

The Phonak Virto Paradise is the most recent hearing aid to join the Paradise platform. In August 2020, Paradise (P) was released for receiver in canal (RIC) wearers with the Audéo hearing aid. A year later, people with single sided deafness were able to get CROS P. Now there’s the Virto P.

The Virto P product line includes:

  • Virto P-312 (including Virto P Black)
  • Virto P-10 NWO – in the ear and invisible

Read more: Phonak announces Audeo Life waterproof hearing aids

Made for All Connectivity

The biggest difference with the Virto P 312 from other in-the-ear hearing aids on the market is that it has made for all (MFA) connectivity with two active pairings. It is actually the only Made For All [MFA] hearing aid currently available on the market. This means it offers hands-free communication.

“It is actually the only ‘Made for All’ hearing aid currently available on the market.”

“If your personal phone is an Android and your work device is iOS, you’re covered,” said Whitney Spagnola, Phonak U.S. Marketing Manager. “If you have a smart TV, Bluetooth compatible computer, an older flip phone, etc., any of these Bluetooth capable electronics can pair to your hearing aids. It may sound simple. But for hearing aid manufacturers, it’s not. The real estate of your ear is really small. As a result, it takes quite a bit of development time and forethought to provide MFA in hearing aids.”

Now with the Virto P, you can put your phone down on your kitchen island while cooking dinner and go about your various tasks all while still on the phone call. And it will be clear on both ends.

Customization

Audiologists use special software from Phonak to program hearing aids. Hearing aids are programmed by audiologists to fit the hearing loss of each individual, as everyone’s hearing is unique. Virto P brings additional customization at your fingertips via the myPhonak app,  which allows you to make your own adjustments based on the fitting provided by your audiologist. But until now, every Phonak Paradise hearing aid was built the same way and looks the same. Virto is different.

Virto P hearing aids are custom-built using special software that takes into account the patient’s individual ear anatomy. It extracts over 1,600 unique data points from the ear.

“We use this to refine the way the directional algorithms in the hearing aid help you hear,” Spagnola explained. “Each ear is unique. Look at your Grandpa’s, your nephew’s, your neighbor’s. They’re all different. The inside and outside are all there to help you hear better. And with the ear impression information, our Rapid Shell Modeling Software can actually extract your anatomical structure to change the way the device performs.”

Virto P-312

This is a fully-connected in-the-ear (ITE) hearing device that resembles a modern earbud. It can distinguish between streamed speech and music. The Virto M Black was first unveiled at CES 2020 (Consumer Electronics Show), where it received multiple awards and accolades for its “stigma-busting design that blurred the lines between a hearing aid and a hearable,” according to the Phonak press release. This is the second generation version. It comes in several colors, including the highly anticipated color of black.

Read more: Is an in-the-ear hearing aid right for me?

Virto Paradise hearing aids come in a variety of colors, accessories, and user options. They are now available in the U.S. Select markets worldwide will have them in the coming months.

Watch how a Virto P hearing aid is made (Note: this is meant for audiologists, so don’t fear the jargon!)