By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
INDIAN HARBOUR BEACH -- For more than 30 years, Dan Talarico has been giving the gift of better hearing to his clients.
"A friend of mine was a Beltone dealer back home, and he called me up out of the clear blue to see if I wanted to try my hand at it," said Mr. Talarico, a Satellite Beach resident.
My background was in chemistry and biology, and I had no inclination to go into sales or business."
What started out as a possible short-term experiment turned into a long-term profession, that has been satisfying, with non-stop evolution in technology.
In 1989, Mr. Talarico opened Riverwalk Hearing Center in Sebastian, then opened the Indian Harbour Beach location in 1998. He later sold his Sebastian location in 2003.
"Most of what we deal with at Riverwalk Hearing Center are people with sensori-neural hearing loss, commonly known as nerve deafness," Mr. Talarico said. "This type of loss is usually caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise, heredity or sickness. Some of the newer medications on the market can also affect a person's hearing."
While nerve deafness cannot be taken care of surgically or medically, hearing aids are the only remedy; however, they do not restore hearing.
"They only accommodate the hearing you still have," Mr. Talarico added.
Riverwalk Hearing Center also deals with those who have conductive hearing loss, which occurs when a person suffers some sort of trauma.
Mr. Talarico explained that this condition may be repaired surgically, but if a person does not want to go through the surgical procedure, then they can be helped with hearing aids.
"When I first got into the hearing aid business, we only had analog hearing aids, which were basically sound amplifiers," Mr. Talarico said. "For the most part, they amplified everything and background noise was a real problem."
He added that if someone had high frequency loss, the hearing aids would still amplify the low frequencies, where the majority of background noise occurs, while the louder sounds were amplified even louder.
"In the early 1990s, we brought out analog digitally programmable hearing aids, which allowed us to somewhat shape the hearing aids' response to the person's loss," Mr. Talarico said.
These hearing aids were still analog, which continued to bring in too much unwanted, non-verbal background noise.
"Finally, in 1998, the manufacturers brought out true digital hearing aids," Mr. Talarico said. The first few generations were a big improvement, but there was still room for improvement with background noise."
The hearing aid models that have been available since 2010 are by far the best yet, in Mr. Talarico's opinion.
The technology has expanded the frequency range, allowing those, who have worn hearing aids for years, to hear so much more than before. Mr. Talarico said that this advancement is extremely beneficial for those who have a problem hearing female and children's voices, television and music.
When a client comes to Riverwalk Hearing Center, Mr. Talarico first gives them a hearing test. Based on the results, he then goes through which hearing aid models are adequate for the consumer.
Buying hearing aids is similar to buying a car; hearing aid manufactures have four to six levels of technology, just as auto makers have multiple levels.
"We try to fit a person according to their social interactions, as well as their budget," Mr. Talarico said. "If someone isn't that active, they do not need to purchase more expensive hearing aids, which are geared toward reducing more background noise."
The two hearing aid companies Mr. Talarico prefers to work with are Phonak and Oticon.
"There is so much to do when it comes to programming the digital hearing aids," Mr. Talarico said. "If you try to work with several companies, you just can't do the job right."
Mr. Talarico said he has selected Phonak and Oticon because he believes they are continuously updating technology, keeping them at the forefront of the industry.
One of the most profound advances, as of late, has been the use of FM-enabled technology in hearing aids.
"It allows people to change the volume and the programming within the hearing aid, and when it's connected to Bluetooth and the phone rings, the patient can press a button on the remote and just start talking," he said. "The signal is going right through their hearing aids, amplifying all of the frequencies to the way they are supposed to be."
Mr. Talarico added that the FM-enabled hearing aids can even be hooked up to a TV.
"I went over to a woman's house to set her hearing aid to her television, and as she went room-to-room, she could still hear the TV," he said. "When I got ready to leave, we were out in her driveway and she started laughing, all because she could still hear the television."
Another interesting advancement in hearing aids is the clip-on microphone. These enable a single speaker, wearing the microphone, to be heard as far as 45 feet away by the person wearing the hearing aid.
"Phonak is working with people, who have Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears," Mr. Talarico said. "There is programming in the hearing aid that allows us to deal with that. Just like the common cold, we know about Tinnitus, but we don't know how to fix it completely."
While very few insurance companies help to take care of hearing aid expenses, Mr. Talarico recognizes the importance of working with his customers to get them exactly what they need.
"People are sometimes hesitant to get a hearing aid because of bad experiences others may have had or because of cost, but I have offered full refunds for 25 years to those, who weren't happy with their hearing aids," he said. "People will go back and tell their friends about the refund, and I can't look at it as losing a customer, but gaining several."
With the many changes in the hearing aid industry, Mr. Talarico joked that he is worried the technology will eventually be out of his grasp; however, he is certain about one thing.
"The most rewarding part of my job is watching customers be able to hear," he said. "The great thing about the new stuff on the market, even if my clients have worn hearing aids before, is that they are astonished by how well they can hear when they get the newer hearing aids."
Riverwalk Hearing Center is located at 728 E. Eau Gallie Blvd., Indian Harbour Beach.
Office hours are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturdays by appointment only.
For more information, or to make an appointment, call (321) 773-5060.