Modern Hearing Aids are Enabling a 21st Century Lifestyle
Just a brief inspection of modern hearing aids is quite enough to reveal that the technology of assisted audition has undergone something of a quantum leap during the last few decades. The size of today’s devices alone is ample evidence of a radical transformation. Where once the cumbersome combination of microphone and battery housing were about the size of a pack of playing cards and connected by an equally obtrusive cable to a clearly visible earpiece, in some cases, today’s units are essentially invisible.
This certainly represents a huge step forward for those who may previously have been self-conscious about being seen as needing to wear one of these very visible devices. However, these more discreet modern hearing aids have a great deal more to offer their wearers than just freedom from embarrassment. The numerous improvements to the performance of these devices that have been made possible by successive advances in technology have been little short of revolutionary. No longer are they simple amplification devices, today’s units are not merely designed to compensate for deficiencies in the wearer’s audition, but they also enable him or her to enjoy a full and normal lifestyle.
The move away from transistors to solid state electronics and digitised signals has led to the development of sophisticated speech processing technology. Not only do those who make use of these modern hearing aids now enjoy unprecedented clarity of sounds, but they are also armed with the means to pinpoint the direction of their origin. Stripped of all ambient background noise, speech is totally discernible and the wearer is constantly aware of just who may be talking at any one time, even among a crowd of very vocal friends or colleagues.
It is, of course, that same solid state circuitry that has made the progressive miniaturisation of these devices possible and, in addition to the new and exceptionally behind-the-ear models, some units are now designed to fit deep inside the external auditory canal, rendering them virtually undetectable. Most modern hearing aids now communicate wirelessly with the speech processor, spelling an end to those annoying cables. Another advantage of the new-style electronics has been the lower power consumption, which means that wearers enjoy an extended battery life. For the active individual with no time to spare, waterproof units mean that there is no need to remove the devices before taking a shower, and to replace them again afterwards.
As valuable as these improvements clearly are, there are still many among the hearing impaired whose lifestyles are subject to demands not satisfied by these alone. This is the digital age and we have all become dependent to some degree on its various applications. The manufacturers of modern hearing aids have been quick to recognise this need, particularly in the areas of communications. Some, such as Phonak, have responded with technology that allows their wearers to interact freely with such devices, like PCs, TVs, mobile phones and MP3 players, among others.
Linking to one of these in order to conduct a Skype conversation or participate in a conference call is an operation that can now be achieved with the aid of an accessory base station and a remote control. The latter even allows the users of modern hearing aids to switch seamlessly between linked devices.