By Patricia ‘Tish’ Ramirez, Au.D.—
If you have severe to profound hearing loss, chances are you are already a seasoned hearing aid wearer. You know which listening situations gives you more trouble than others, and which hearing aid features you can’t live without. But if you’re thinking about purchasing your next pair of hearing aids, it’s important to keep in mind that hearing aid technology has made significant leaps and bounds just within the last few years. The following are some recent innovations might be worthy of your consideration.
Hearing aid size used to be more dependent on the degree of hearing loss. Those who require more amplification need larger hearing aid receivers and batteries, which in turn drive up the size of the hearing aid. As a result, those with severe or profound hearing loss were often limited to bulkier and more visible Behind-the-Ear (BTE) or In-the-Ear (ITE) models.
With recent innovations in miniaturization, it is now possible for those with severe hearing loss to also be appropriately fit with smaller and more discreet Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) models. Also known as mini-BTE’s, these aids have receivers positioned in the wearer’s ear canal, thereby reducing the size of the main housing unit which sits behind the ear. While RIC hearing aids require more patient dexterity for handling and usage compared with traditional BTE and ITE models, they are arguably less conspicuous.
Hearing loss and tinnitus often go hand in hand, and many more hearing aids now also feature tinnitus therapy options. So if tinnitus still bothers you despite wearing hearing aids, make sure to bring it up with your hearing care professional. Even if he did not offer any effective solutions before, he may now be working with hearing aids with build-in therapy options. Some of these include customized and smoothing ocean wave-like or steady noises which can distract you from your tinnitus, or even completely inaudible solutions which work in the background to chip away at your tinnitus.
Chances are, listening in noisy and crowded situations can be a challenge for you even with hearing aids. Latest hearing technology allows two hearings aids in a pair share information picked by both aids analyze the sound environment together as a unified system. This allows the hearing aids to be even better at isolating the speech you want to hear, and suppressing all the noises you don’t.
Studies done with this kind of “binaural beamforming” technology has shown unprecedented benefit in helping patient improve speech understanding in noisy situations such as crowded gatherings or busy restaurants. What’s more, brain activity studies using EEG recordings have also shown that this kind of technology also reduces the “brain strain” associated with trying to listen in challenging environments.
Your smartphone is rechargeable, and so is your toothbrush and your camera, so why not your hearing aids? Although rechargeable hearing aids have been around for some years, the technology took a tremendous step forward just this past year with the introduction of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that are completely sealed within the hearing aid. These batteries can run an electronic device for a long time even under high energy demands, which explains their widespread popularity in all kinds of consumer electronics.
Especially with models that feature inductive charging, which eliminates the need to align charging contacts, rechargeable hearing aids are easier to use than ever. They can save you money and hassles associated with buying and changing disposable batteries, while reducing toxic waste for the environment at the same time.
It’s nice to have hearing aids that automatically adapt to your changing listening environments, but it’s also nice when you have the ability to control how they should behave if necessarily. For many experienced hearing aid wearers, this ability is especially important. Beyond the traditional controls on hearing aid housings or special remote controls, there are now dedicated apps that can turn your phone into a remote control for your hearing aids.
Using a smartphone app to control your hearing aids is discreet: everyone just thinks you’re checking for text messages. Furthermore, it has a larger and more intuitive user interface, and gives you control over more aspects of your hearing aid functionality. Some hearing aids even come with apps which allow you to directly steer the direction and span of the microphone focus.
In this connected world, hearing aids are getting in on the game too. Many hearing aids now allow you to wirelessly connect to devices such as TVs, phones, personal music players, or tablets either directly or via an intermediary streamer device. This way, you can hear the audio streamed to your hearing aids in stereo, effectively turning them into a wireless personal headset.
You may have heard of telehealth tools: telecommunication tools such as apps which allow healthcare professionals to care for their patients remotely. These advancements have also made their way into hearing care. It’s now possible for your hearing care professional to remotely track your progress during new hearing aid home trials.
Via a smartphone app, you can rate satisfaction with your new hearing aids in certain situations, which is sent directly to your hearing care professional. You can communicate directly via text or voice calls so that your questions can be answered without having to wait until the next follow-up appointment. Certain hearing aids even allow professionals to adjusting settings remotely via the app without an in-office appointment. This immediate access to the hearing care professional may be especially appreciated by experienced wearers who know exactly how they want to hear in specific listening situations.
Technology in general is moving at an exponential rate, the same applies to hearing aids too. So although you’re probably more informed and experienced than new wearers of hearing aids, it is important to keep an open mind about all the additional benefits you may appreciated when searching for new hearing aids.
Dr. Tish Ramirez is the Sr. Manager of Education and Training for Signia. She is responsible for the content, planning, and delivery of sessions to train the company’s network of hearing care professionals and staff on product and audiology-related topics. Tish holds a doctorate degree in Audiology from A.T. Still University, a graduate degree from Arizona State University, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona. Tish has been a featured speaker at several industry events and is the author of articles appearing in numerous audiology publications.