Continuous improvements and innovations are being made in the area of hearing aid technology. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on research and development so that patients can connect with the world around them through sound. With that, hearing aids have gone through amazing changes in the last couple of decades. Firstly, we have witnessed the move from analog to digital. Analog hearing aids would amplify all sounds in the surrounding environment. This was a great first step; however, hearing is a complicated process that not only involves the ear, but also requires that the brain act as a filtering system to prioritize auditory information.
Advanced digital hearing aid options began to possess the ability to make real time refinements to help with clarity and comfort in noise. Hearing aid manufacturers continue to research not only how hearing aids or other hearables can help one hear better, but also to help the hearing aid user to distinguish speech from noise for better speech intelligibility. There are incredible features like multiband compression, feedback cancellation, noise reduction, speech enhancement, environment classification and a host of other signal processing technologies that have significantly improved listening capability and clarity.
The future of hearing aids may be much more than just a hearable. The introduction to wireless and Bluetooth technology has provided a foundation for the next wave of advancement. Imagine a hearing aid that not only helps you hear, but also tracks and monitors your heart rate. There are many devices on the market currently that help track your health but they require regular charging, and some are obtrusive and obvious, since they are worn on the wrist.
One hearing aid manufacturer has paired up with Bragi to hopefully make a much more advanced hearing aid that will not only help the patient hear well, but also track additional health data. For hearing aid wearers, there is a medical necessity to this device, unlike the wrist-worn technologies. Imagine a loved one, at home alone and their heart rate suddenly drops. The sensors in the hearing aid pick this up and call an emergency responder for help or automatically dials them in to a loved one. The possibilities are endless.
This is just a small implication of what the future may hold. The technology will get more sophisticated year after year to help those with hearing loss improve their quality of life but also, perhaps, save their life!
Danielle De Roose, BC-HIS
Board Certified in Hearing Instrument Sciences
Registered Hearing Aid Practitioner