The very first ‘hearing aid’ was a hand cupped behind an ear, and you’ll still see people today do just that if they’re straining to hear something. This gesture serves to create a larger ‘receiver’ to capture the sound, and perhaps let someone see you’re struggling to hear them!
The next evolution was a weird and wonderful array of ‘ear trumpets’, which did the same thing – acting as a receiver to collect available sound and channel it into the ear. A major step forward came with devices which not only harvested sound, but also amplified it. These were the first modern ‘hearing aids’, but again they could be bulky, unattractive and unreliable, especially in noisy settings where they amplified all the sound, not just the parts you want to hear.
Thankfully things have moved on at a pace and the latest high-tech hearing aids are a world away from those early efforts. Innovation has been driven by need; hearing loss is usually (but not always) age-related and with more of us living longer than ever before, the demand for reliable and effective hearing aids is greater than ever. Below, we’ll look at some of the latest advances and innovations in hearing aid technology, helping us maintain good hearing well into our senior years:
Small is beautiful: Gone are the days of huge, heavy and impossible-to-miss hearing aids. The latest devices, worn inside the ear or behind it, are virtually undetectable by others, yet provide a high level of audio assistance. In the past, people using a hearing aid for the first time often needed to have an impression taken of their ear so the aid could be moulded to fit. Now many manufactures offer ready-to-wear aids in a variety of sizes, making it easy to choose the best fit straight off the shelf.
Better batteries: One of the keys to unlocking smaller and less visually intrusive hearing aids has been the development of tiny but powerful batteries. However, this presented another problem for some seniors, as changing the tiny batteries when they ran out could be tricky even for those with a high level of manual dexterity. The latest generation of hearing aids use reliable and long-lasting rechargeable batteries which very rarely need to be removed from the device. Instead the whole hearing aid is connected to a docking station for an overnight charge, providing ample power to get you through the next day and, in many cases, beyond.
Ear-to-ear connection: Some people only need a hearing aid in one ear, but for those wearing them in both ears there can be additional problems. Older aids functioned independently, picking up the sounds closest to each ear. In a noisy setting this can cause a confusing jumble of sounds coming separately into each ear. Modern synchronised hearing aids with ‘ear-to-ear connection’ work together through a wireless signal between them. Instead of bombarding the user with different sounds in each ear, they synchronise and create one overall sound to mimic natural hearing. Changes made to the settings of one hearing aid are also made automatically to the other.
Hearing aid apps: One of the latest developments in hearing aids is their ability to connect wirelessly with other technology, such as smartphones or Bluetooth-enabled devices. A range of hearing aid apps can now be downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet. Some are ‘amplifier apps’, which take the sounds picked up by a hearing aid’s built-in microphone and then amplify them. Others are ‘controller apps’, which allow the user to control and adjust a number of settings on their hearing aid using the screen on their smartphone or tablet. In another development, some apps can be used by a consumer in conjunction with a professional audiologist, reducing the need for clinic or hospital appointments. For example, a user could use the app to ‘take a snapshot’ of difficulties they are experiencing with their hearing aids and send it to the audiologist, who could then make any necessary adjustment to the hearing aids remotely via the app.
Bluetooth: Some hearing aids can connect wirelessly to Bluetooth-enabled devices such as home security alarms, doorbells, TV sets or various household appliances. For example, a person with hearing loss might not hear the doorbell when someone calls at their home, but if the doorbell sends a Bluetooth signal directly to their hearing aid, they definitely will. The same goes for a smoke alarm, the timer on a microwave, a text alert on a mobile phone, or any Bluetooth-enabled device.
In summary, the world of hearing aid technology really has come on in leaps and bounds, and continues to do so. For perhaps the first time, hearing aids are not just a necessary medical appliance for anyone with hearing loss; they are a desirable high-tech gadget offering a world of possibilities.