Hearing Aid Overview
Hearing aids are the best thing you can do to maintain your health and well-being once hearing loss has become an issue. While most of us are familiar with the idea of hearing aids in the abstract, many people will be surprised to learn what modern hearing aids can do to better help patients with hearing loss navigate the world of sound!
There are multiple styles, sizes and options available when it comes to hearing aids. While we can explain them to you when you come in for your hearing test, it’s a lot of information to absorb, so it may help to be prepared with some basic knowledge of what hearing aids can do today.
Digital Signal Processing
Digital signal processing (DSP) started making its way into hearing aids in the early 2000s. While the purely analog devices of the past were certainly important tools for those with hearing loss, DSP has allowed hearing aids to reach a whole new level of clarity and precision, in some cases improving the hearing ability of the wearer to exceed that of a normal-hearing 20-year-old.
DSP allows hearing aids to favor speech over background sound. It allows them to identify environments and automatically adjust their program to suit the space you’re in. Assistance from artificial intelligence even allows hearing aids to utilize multiple microphone and speaker arrays to drastically improve sound localization, and to maintain focus on a human voice that is moving in relation to your position. Imagine you’re walking down a busy street with a friend, and easily understanding every word they say!
While the telecoil (or T-coil) is still a very useful technology, especially in public spaces, Bluetooth connectivity has been a major step forward for hearing aids.
More and more hearing aids are sold with Bluetooth capability these days, and for good reason. Most of the devices and gadgets we use—even our cars!—are now able to connect with each other wirelessly through the Bluetooth protocol. Using Bluetooth, you can wirelessly stream phone calls, video conferences, and entertainment media directly to your hearing aids. Direct streaming in this way lets you enjoy the sound from your devices in much higher quality than when it has to be translated through multiple sets of speakers and microphones. The level of the Bluetooth stream can be adjusted relative to the microphone level in your hearing aids, meaning you won’t miss out on someone saying “hello” to you while you’re listening to music.
But streaming is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Bluetooth in today’s hearing aids. Hearing aid manufacturers now produce smartphone apps to accompany most of their hearing aid models. Using these apps, you can control volume levels, adjust programs, monitor battery life, track biometric data and more.
You can even engage in a telehealth conference with us directly through your smartphone! At an appointed time, we will video call you through your hearing aids’ app, at which point it becomes just like sitting across from us in the office. We can adjust your fitment remotely, right through the app, while you’re able to hear the difference in real time! Most patients appreciate this even more than fitment adjustments made in the office, where the efficacy of the new fitment might not be apparent until they’ve returned to the real world. Using the telehealth conference option via Bluetooth, your fitment is adjusted while you’re in the real world!
For most of the history of hearing aids, they’ve relied on zinc-air disposable batteries to provide power. In the last few years, battery technology has reached a point where lithium-ion rechargeable batteries (the same kind in your smartphone) can be made small enough and powerful enough to effectively power a set of hearing aids for a full day. Simply place them in their charger at night, and each morning you’ll have enough power to get through the day. While disposable batteries are still an option, it’s worth considering rechargeables.
Over the course of a hearing aid’s average lifespan (about 5 years), it will use an average of about 320 batteries. Multiply that by two and you’ve got about 640 batteries! With rechargeables, you only need one for each hearing aid for the whole time you have your hearing aids. That ultimately saves you money while also being easier on the environment.
Rechargeables also obviate the need for a battery compartment door, which has historically been a major point of infiltration for moisture and dirt. These can wreak havoc on the sensitive electronics inside your hearing aids. The vast majority of hearing aid repairs are done because of moisture. With rechargeables, moisture has a much harder time getting into the hearing aids.