What to expect in a modern hearing aid

“For most of us,” says world-renowned designer Bruce Mau, “design is invisible. Until it fails.”

When’s the last time you thought about hearing aids? For most of us, just the very phrase conjures bulky, flesh-toned eyesores that whistle. But – times have changed! If you haven’t thought about hearing aids since your grandparents’ era, you’re in for a delightful surprise. Alongside other portable electronic devices, modern hearing aids have accelerated in design and technology.

Modern hearing aids offer advanced digital technology and incredible access to sound. And even better, these features are bundled in sleek, sophisticated, and discreet design. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with hearing loss, if you’re in the market for a new pair of aids, or if you’ve put off seeking treatment because you’re worried about what hearing aids “look like,” there’s no better time than the present to explore the plethora of options available to you.

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Hearing Aid Design and Style

We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but the look of modern hearing aids is a great place to start. As with many electronic devices available today, hearing aids have a beautiful, minimal aesthetic – organic shapes with round, soft edges, and a muted, neutral palette to blend in with hair and skin tones. Can design change the world?

Designers think about how people interact with their environments, and how these relationships can be improved. When it comes to hearing aid design, one could argue that these beautifully-designed objects have chipped away at the taboos of treating hearing loss and the lingering misconceptions of hearing aids. The result: well-designed, attractive devices encourage people to treat their hearing loss, allowing them to live their best lives with access to sound.

Recently, Signia’s Styletto hearing aid received the Gold Award at the iF Design Awards 2019 and the Red Dot Design Award for its impeccable design.

According to Signia, “The design of new hearing aids is important because they have developed into much more than traditional medical devices. Today’s hearing aids are technological accessories that are worn every day by people with hearing loss to remain fully connected with the world around them.”

Despite the sleek and simple look, these tiny packages (some as small as two blueberries stacked atop one another) hold powerful features to help you hear at your best.

With rapid advancements in technology (batteries, materials, etc.), hearing aids have developed in tandem, crafted of durable materials to protect the electronic components inside, as you take them out and about in your daily life. Common hearing aid styles include: behind-the-ear, receiver-in-canal, in-the-ear, completely-in-canal, and invisible-in-canal. Depending on the type and degree of hearing loss, your hearing health professional will work with you to determine the best style to meet your needs.

Digital

What’s the difference between analog and digital hearing aids? Hearing aids of the past relied on analog technology, which made sound waves bigger to capture amplification. While amplification is a primary goal, analog hearing aids were unable to capture the true intricacies of sound and provided a flatter, coarser sound.

Modern hearing aids, on the other hand, are primarily digital. Digital technology allows modern hearing aids to analyze and adjust sound before the wearer receives it. In other words, modern hearing aids are able to provide a more intricate and detailed sound. If a sound is too loud, modern hearing aids can tamper that down for you.

They can also focus on a quieter voice in a noisy place, amplifying just that speech sound while neutralizing the louder sounds in the environment. This is an important advancement in terms of providing wearers with realistic, natural sound.

Sound

With hearing loss, the most common complaint is “I can hear, but I can’t understand.” Hearing loss affects our ability to differentiate between sounds we want to hear and background noise and makes speech intelligibility difficult. It’s not as simple as making sounds louder for us to access them – there are intricacies within sound and hearing that must be addressed with hearing loss.

With this in mind, modern hearing aids use advanced technology that analyze sound at lightning-fast speed and are equipped with algorithms that capture the sounds wearers intend to hear. For example, if you find yourself in a noisy restaurant, hearing aids help focus on the conversation with your dining party.

While hearing aids of the past were designed almost strictly to access speech sounds and speech in noise, modern hearing aids also provide improved access to music. The complexities of sound in music, from vocals to instrumentals, can now be enjoyed fully, thanks to new advancements in modern hearing aids. Some hearing aids even offer different settings depending on if the music is live or recorded, and musicians with hearing loss benefit from special settings for performance.

Feedback Cancellation

According to Hearing Review, acoustic feedback “may lead to issues of loudness discomfort, sound annoyance, reduced sound quality, and even reduced speech understanding.”

Feedback happens when hearing aids pick up sounds emitted from the microphone and “feeds back” into itself. In hearing aids of the past, less sophisticated technology meant that feedback was a common problem.

Furthermore, with analog sound, wearers might find themselves adjusting their hearing aids to higher volumes in order to focus on specific sounds. This makes feedback more likely. That uncomfortable, screeching whistling sound is a thing of the past. With super-fast algorithms, modern hearing aids are able to analyze feedback sounds and cancel them out before they occur, thus providing wearers with a more comfortable and realistic listening experience.

Bluetooth and User Accessibility

Perhaps one of the most ground-breaking additions to hearing aids, Bluetooth compatibility has opened up a new world of access to hearing aid users. Modern hearing aids are now able to connect wirelessly to other devices, such as smartphones and tablets, which simultaneously allows for heightened user-accessibility and even better access to sound.

With Bluetooth, modern hearing aids allow wearers to control their listening experience, making adjustments discreetly through a smartphone app. Some apps even offer a nifty GPS function, in which your preferences are saved by location. When you return to a saved location, your hearing aids will automatically adjust to your saved preferences.

In the past, hearing aid wearers might have to remove their devices to put on headphones or earbuds to listen to music or audio. With the advent of Bluetooth, phone calls, music, and audio from videos can now be streamed directly to hearing aids, providing a seamless experience.

Rechargeability

In the past, hearing aids required battery changes once a week on average. Over the course of a year, the cost of batteries could be daunting. Furthermore, disposing of batteries posed an environmental issue, with lead seeping out in landfills. Consumers called for a more sustainable solution, and the major hearing aid manufacturers have answered: rechargeable hearing aids.

Rechargeable hearing aids are powered by lithium-ion batteries, similar to the ones found in your phone or laptop. Rechargeable hearing aids are simple and easy to use: simply drop them into their recharging station before bed and wake up to fully charged devices.

As modern hearing aids offer more advanced technology, the devices required more battery power. Rechargeable hearing aids offer wearers a newfound sense of confidence. In the past, hearing aid batteries could run out at any time – and doesn’t always seem to go that they run out at inopportune times? If you forget to pack a spare pair of batteries, you’d be out of luck until you could replace them. Rechargeable hearing aids offer a longer battery life and an easy way to check their levels. Many manufacturers even offer portable battery charger packs for people on the go.

Artificial Intelligence

Now in burgeoning stages of development, artificial intelligence (AI) is a newer addition to hearing aids. With the understanding that treating hearing loss is an important of your overall health and well-being, AI-equipped hearing aids have incorporated technology that can track your heart rate and body activity – in the same way an Apple Watch or FitBit might. Starkey’s Livio AI hearing aid also has the capability to send alerts if the wearer has a fall, which is an incredibly useful benefit for one’s personal safety.

Are you interested in learning about how modern hearing aids can benefit you?

Contact us at Greentree Audiology at 314-835-9996.

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