According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly 30 million Americans could benefit from hearing aids, yet less than 30% of individuals ages 70 and older and 16% of those ages 20 to 69 use them.
This seems hard to believe when you consider the strides made in hearing aid technology in the last 100 years and especially during the last few decades. Believe it or not, until the end of the 19th century, people with hearing loss who were fortunate enough to have access to hearing devices had to use clumsy, bulky ear trumpets and long speaking tubes.
Just before the dawn of the 20th century, a new trend in design gave rise to cosmetically-pleasing hearing aids that were so elaborately crafted and beautiful, they rivaled the most luxurious fashion accessories. Unfortunately, refining the actual acoustics proved far more challenging. Thankfully since then, hearing aid technology has evolved by leaps and bounds, both in style and development of highly sophisticated acoustics.
The good news is that hearing aid advancements have greatly reduced the time it takes for people with hearing loss to admit they need some type of hearing assistance. Industry experts attribute this to individuals being more in tune with technology and viewing hearing aids as a type of consumer device (e.g. like their smartphone).
Hearing aids primarily help people with sensorineural hearing loss that impacts the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve. Sensorineural hearing loss is by far the most common type of hearing loss in adults, comprising 90% of all cases. That means the majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. Hearing aids are also a viable solution for some individuals with conductive hearing loss that affects the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear and its small bones. For other people with conductive hearing loss, surgically implanted bone-anchored hearing aids or medication are the best option. A comprehensive assessment for hearing loss typically includes some or all of the following elements to help determine the type and extent of hearing loss and if you’re a candidate for hearing aids:
Decisions about what type and features you need are based on your treatment plan goals and ongoing interaction with your hearing care professional. Factors impacting style choice include ease of use, ear canal shape and size, skin sensitivity, comfort, presence of occlusion (hearing distortion caused by ear canal blockage), and cosmetic concerns.
Modern hearing aids are sleek electronic devices with a wide array of sophisticated features. Developed in the late 1980s, the first fully digital hearing aid was marketed in 1996. By 2005, 93% of the hearing aids sold in the U.S. incorporated digital technology. Today, wireless technology has made Bluetooth connectivity a standard feature on the majority of hearing aids sold in the U.S. As hearing aid technology has become more advanced, a wide spectrum of adaptive features have been introduced. Directional properties are applied to the incoming signal on the front end before sounds are amplified, filtered, or compressed. Additional features include multiple channels and memories, different types of noise reduction, telecoil technology, and speech mapping, among others. In the U.S., receiver in the canal (RIC) hearing aids have become the go-to choice.
Hearing aids are powered by disposable or rechargeable batteries. The latter may be a better choice if you have arthritis or other hand dexterity issues because changing tiny hearing aid batteries can be difficult. You simply place the device in a charging pod for about 30 minutes for a six-hour charge or three hours for a 24-hour charge. Available for select hearing aids, ZPower batteries offer several benefits including:
RIC hearing aids consists of a nearly invisible tube that connects the casing to a receiver (speaker) that sits inside your ear canal. This type of hearing aid has largely replaced in-the-ear (ITE) models. RIC hearing aids are lighter weight, highly discreet, provides superior sound, and a more natural listening experience than older types. Because the smaller speaker is located directly in your ear canal, sound is able to travel a shorter distance from the speaker through your ear canal and eardrum. This results in clearer and more intact sound, while the larger distance between the receiver and microphone leads to less feedback. Many studies on inner ear (cochlear) hearing loss have demonstrated that RIC hearing aids perform better than behind the ear models. Furthermore, an RIC hearing aid fitted with an open dome reduces the chance of occlusion and provides sufficient venting to remove low frequencies.
RIC hearing aids come in a variety of colors and are a good option for individuals with mild to severe hearing loss. Additional benefits include:
Smartphone connectivity improves clarity when you talk on the phone and the ability to download apps, to adjust your hearing aids based on environment (e.g. to block out background noise). This is possible due to wireless Bluetooth-enabled devices.
A smartphone app can help you locate misplaced hearing aids in the same way as missing keys. The app uses a map to detect and show you the last location of your hearing aids or a search signal to help you recover them when you believe they’re nearby.
The Own Voice Processing (OVP) detects the user's voice and processes it separately from external sounds. This resolves occlusion, an increase in the loudness of your own voice when the ear canal is blocked by a hearing aid.
Thank to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in hearing aids, users can track their daily steps, social engagement and active listening to generate an overall wellness score. They can detect falls and send an automatic alert to a list of emergency contacts.
A wide range of hearing aids makes it easy to select the best choice to fit your budget and needs. Although over-the-counter hearing aids will likely be available in the near future, working with a licensed hearing care professional helps ensure that you select the best hearing aid for your unique needs and receive proper aftercare (e.g. maintenance and adjustments). Schedule an appointment with a licensed hearing care professional today to review all of your options.
It's time to finally treat your hearing loss. Sign up for a free consultation with a licensed hearing care professional today to determine if you have hearing loss. It’s the start of your journey towards better hearing.