Ok, so we’ve only had thirteen years of this century so far but it’s been long enough to see some amazing advancements in the field of hearing technology. Although at the end of the 20th century we’re already a long way from the ear trumpets of the past, the last decade or so has seen technology come on in leaps and bounds. The days of a hearing aid simply making things louder are becoming a distant memory as constantly improving technology allows hearing devices to do things you never thought possible.
So exactly how have they changed? Let’s look at the three main areas in which hearing aids have improved.
The first changes came with the introduction of the digital hearing aid. Previously, all hearing aids were analogue which meant they could only collect and amplify the sound for the user. Digital hearing aids do the same but, using microchip technology, they also process the sound, adapting it for the individual needs of the wearer. Hearing aids today generally use sound processing channels. As each channel processes a different range of frequencies, the more you have, the more specifically it can be tuned. Audiologists use these channels to adapt the hearing aid for your individual hearing loss. Older hearing aids were all made for one level and the only control you had was over the volume.
This digital technology paved the way for the introduction of ‘features’ into the hearing aids. Specific programmes that can deal with different environments and situations are now commonplace in the majority of hearing aids. In the past, hearing aid wearers often encountered problems with things such as feedback or background noise but thanks to faster and more sophisticated technology, the hearing aids actively prevent against unwanted noise. There are also features that help ease tinnitus symptoms, manage wind noise and some even have dedicated programmes for things like listening to music. As each manufacturer produces their own features and each hearing aid contains different variations there are too many to list them all but suffice to say if you can think of an issue, there’s probably a feature for it.
Now let’s talk wireless!
If you wear hearing aids, you may have found that watching TV, listening to music and even answering the phone has sometimes proved difficult. Still having to turn up volume to high levels or missing parts of conversations can be frustrating, not only for the wearer but for others around as well. Using a signal similar to Bluetooth, your hearing aids can now be connected to different everyday devices so the sound is sent directly to them. Manufacturers have developed ranges of accessories that can be conveniently placed around the home or on your person that stream sound directly into the hearing aids. This allows you to hear in comfort and easily adjust the volume to levels that suit you without disturbing anyone else. There are even accessories now that will pick up the sound of a person’s voice in a crowded situation and send that straight to the hearing aids so you never have to miss a conversation again.
Wireless technology has also allowed for the introduction of Binaural features. This is where your hearing aids will actually communicate with each other to ensure you receive the best sound possible.
Advancements in the design of both the inside and outside of hearing aids means that the sound quality you receive today is far superior to that of say, 10 years ago. Simply turning the volume up often caused distortion and feedback so while the sounds were louder, they were not clearer. Hearing aids now have the ability to recreate the normal acoustics of the ear which means the sound quality remains a lot more natural. Faster sound processing also means a clearer sound, helping you to hear sounds you may have been unable to with older hearing aids.
Improvements in microphone technology have not only made sound quality improve, but have increased the ability to hear where sounds are coming from. An issue with older hearing aids was that they could only pick up the sounds from directly in front of you, with today’s directional microphones they can detect sounds from all directions. This has helped to increase people’s awareness of what is going on around them which has improved quality of hearing and also safety. For example, earlier hearing aids may not have picked up the sound of oncoming traffic if it wasn’t right in front of you!
Not long ago, if someone said hearing aid, you pictured a big, bulky device behind the ear with a large mould covering the inside. This often put people off doing anything about their hearing loss as they didn’t want to wear them. These days there are a number of options available to suit all tastes and requirements. You can still get the behind the ear aids but the popularity for things like receiver in canal aids or custom in the ear models is rapidly increasing. With some manufacturers even offering ‘invisible’ hearing aids which are so tiny they fit deep inside the ear canal, there is no need for anyone to feel self-conscious about wearing one. There are even options for those who prefer to use their hearing aid to express their individuality. With bold and vivid colours available, some people wear their hearing aids like an accessory!
We’ve really only scratched the surface here of what is available but the advancements that have been made in such a relatively short time are astounding. Who knows what we can expect 10 years from now!
This article was written by Jenny Harrison at www.yourhearing.co.uk; the leading specialists who can improve your hearing and lifestyle. If you are struggling with a hearing loss and need expert advice on hearing devices, visit the site today.