Bionic Ear Listening Device – New Technology for the Hearing Impaired

Though frequently used to identify the outsized bionic ear listening devices used by police, national security services and SWAT teams around the world for remote eavesdropping, the term has also been used to describe a far smaller piece of equipment.  Better known as a directional or parabolic microphone, the surveillance tool is able to detect and amplify conversations from several hundred metres away. By contrast, the far smaller units, which would be more accurately described as cochlear implants, are intended to assist those with hearing difficulties that may not be resolved by the use of conventional aids.

The quest to find some means to compensate for deafness has been a long one and directed mostly at various methods by which to amplify sounds sufficiently for them to be heard by those with varying degrees of auditory impairment. Initially, all of the attempts at help were aimed at providing simple acoustic devices such as horns and speaking tubes that could be used to channel external sounds directly to the ear canal. It was only with the invention of the telephone that the task of amplification by electrical means, still relied upon today, finally became possible.

From that point the transition from vacuum tubes, first to the far tinier transistors and, ultimately, to solid state electronics and microchips has seen these conventional amplification steadily becoming smaller and finally reaching the point where they are virtually undetectable without very close scrutiny. Nevertheless, these aids remain unable to rectify certain types of deafness and a bionic ear listening device can often be a viable alternative.

Impaired hearing results mainly from either some problem with the mechanisms that conducts sound to the inner sensory organs of the ear or in the sensory mechanism itself and is classified as ether conductive or sensorineural deafness. Differentiating the two is a task for an audiologist such as those found at the various Ear Institute Clinics around South Africa. They conduct texts to assess the degree of loss and identify its cause as conductive or sensory, recommending and providing the appropriate remediation.

In sensory impairment the role of an implant is to substitute for the cochlear hair cells by generating electrical impulses, in response to sounds received, that are similar to the nerve signals created by healthy, undamaged cells. Though the sounds perceived are not identical to normal speech they are easily understood with practice and allow users to conduct normal conversations and enjoy music etc.

In severe conductive deafness, an implant can bypass the impaired pathway and, again, serve to improve the wearer’s hearing. The Ear Institute will be happy to assess your suitability for a bionic ear listening device.

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