Latest Hearing Aid Technology
For many years, hearing aid technology was stuck in the doldrums. But thanks to the inexorable rise technology in the general electronics sector, some of those advances are finally trickling down into the assistive hearing device market, providing those with hearing loss with greater functionality than ever before. There’s been nothing short of a revolution in hearing aid capability over the last few years, with some powerful new technologies in development.
Basic hearing aids already come with a plethora of helpful features, including, of course, the ability to customize the amplification of different frequencies and external connectivity to radios and the telephone. But these technologies have been around for some time. Now hearing aid manufacturers are taking the advances in miniaturization and software and applying them to improve the lives of some of the thirty million people in the US with hearing loss.
Hearing aids that leave the ear canal unobstructed
For years, hearing aid manufacturers had to come up with ways of fitting relatively bulky speakers to practical devices that could fit in the small space provided by the ear canal. The best approach was to create custom earmolds that fit snugly in the patient’s ears and attach headphone speakers from the music industry. But over time, engineers began to imagine how removing more of the bulk could lead to greater benefits for patients.
Open ear hearing aids are a different kind of hearing aid that leaves the ear canal unobstructed. The main part of the hearing aid clips around the ear, while a small wire-like speaker is inserted into the ear canal, leaving it relatively open.
Designers believe that this new design will offer some remarkable benefits, including a better perception of low-frequency sounds and lower risk of earwax buildup.
Hearing aids with no external casing
Other manufacturers are looking at taking the opposite approach: rather than moving the hearing aid out of the ear canal, they want to put the whole thing inside. Many people worry that their hearing aids will be knocked off their ears during sport or exercise. Given that they can be costly to replace, experts are now investigating whether the outer casing, which typically houses the microphone and processor, is even necessary. With modern technology, it’s now possible to make devices that sit entirely within the ear.
Because of their small size and where they sit, these devices can’t use directional microphones like their larger, external counterparts. But with that said, they can run for up to four months without having to be removed and the battery replaced. In time, technology may improve to the point where in-ear-canal hearing aids have all the same technology as the most sophisticated hearing devices today.
Algorithms that detect location and adjust automatically
Machine learning has given computers new superpowers, from image recognition to language translation. Now, this powerful technology is working its way into assistive hearing devices, helping them to feel more natural to users.
Advances in algorithms have given hearing aids the ability to adapt to changes in the noise environment in real time. Onboard software can interpret its surroundings and promote amplification at frequencies most helpful to the wearer. In practice, this means that if you go from a quiet office into a noisy restaurant, the hearing aid will automatically adjust the amplification, prioritizing certain frequencies above others helpfully and seamlessly.
Algorithms are also becoming better at recognizing and amplifying speech sounds while canceling out other background noises. Smart software can detect speech patterns and can work with directional microphones to emphasize the speech of the person sitting in front of you while blocking out the noise coming from surrounding voices.
Wifi and Bluetooth integration
Wifi and Bluetooth technologies help make hearing aids more user-friendly, especially for people who wear two. Bluetooth connectivity between hearing aids allows setting changes made on one to be instantly communicated to the other.
Wireless technologies have become miniaturized to the point where they can now fit on the devices themselves. Users can stream digital media directly to their hearing aids, without the need to transmit actual sound, reducing the risk of feedback from the onboard microphone.
More attractive designs
Just as in the mobile phone market, better technology is allowing companies to create more attractive designs for their products. Smaller, sleeker and less invasive, the current line-up of hearing aids is very different in style and appearance compared to those of the past. Get in touch with our audiologists at Peninsula Hearing for more advice on which styles and technologies to choose for your device. You can reach us by calling our Poulsbo office at (360) 697-3061 or (360) 379-5458 for Port Townsend.