In the good old days, hearing aids weren’t very smart. Hearing aids amplified sound the same, whether the sound was soft or loud, low-pitched or high-pitched, in front of you or behind you. Technology was very inferior and it provided audiologists very little room for adjustments.
Fortunately, today’s hearing aids are much smarter. The 21st-century digital hearing aid monitors the sounds around you and processes them automatically based on a program custom designed for your hearing pattern.
For example, someone might have good hearing for low-pitched sounds but have a significant hearing loss for high-pitched sounds. For this person, the instruments are programmed to provide no amplification where the hearing is good and significant amplification for the high-pitched sounds.
Many people with hearing loss can hear loud sounds just fine. It’s the softer sounds that are a problem. Hearing aids can be programmed to amplify soft sounds a lot, but not amplify loud sounds at all. The amount of loudness control can be varied for each individual.
We usually want to pay most attention to the person in front of us. Directional microphones provide more amplification for sounds coming from the front (and less amplification for sounds from the back). Digital technology allows the hearing aids to control that directionality automatically and more precisely.
As microchips have gotten smaller and much, much faster, engineers, programmers have used the advanced processing capabilities to improve on older techniques. For example, wireless connectivity uses technology similar to Bluetooth to connect to a telephone or television. With this technology, the caller’s voice or TV sound is sent directly to both hearing aids. Thanks to this connectivity, many people with hearing loss hear better on a cell phone than someone with normal hearing.
Telecoils have always been important for some people with hearing loss. Today’s telephone detection capability allows the hearing aid to know when a telephone is brought up to the ear and automatically switch to the telephone mode, allowing the hearing aid to amplify sound from the telephone (and not amplify any other sounds in the environment.)
Other smart functions we take for granted include feedback reduction programs to virtually eliminate that annoying squeal, speech recognition algorithms and noise reduction technology. All these functions require a smart hearing aid with lightning fast microprocessors.
Millions of people around the world have benefited from these advances. Of course, hearing aids still can’t restore “normal hearing.” Ironically, the most common complaints that remain involve other man-made technologies, such as movies, television, and the telephone. Still, we’ve come a long way from the days when hearing aids weren’t very smart. And who knows what advances we’ll see in the future?
Check out some of the most modern technology provided by our hearing aid manufacturers: