Sound World Solution's hearing device lets a user customize its settings using a Bluetooth connection and a smartphone.

Fine Tuning Hearing Aids for the Modern Age

Hearing aids have long been a sign of aging. They are not as bulky as they used to be as designs streamline with technology. Since the use of headphones and earbuds has emerged, more people may be willing to use hearing aids. About 20 percent of people who need hearing aids actually use them, and part of the reason is cost. The average hearing aid costs $1,500, ranging to $5,000 for high-end models. Hearing aids are not normally covered by insurance.

Consumer wireless devices like Apple’s AirPods and Samsung’s Gear IconX are making in-ear-devices stylish. Starkey Hearing Technologies has created the Halo 2, which doubles as a Bluetooth smartphone headset. Starkey is researching how to solve the problem of hearing in a crowded environment. Using an EEG skullcap covered with electrodes, they measure brain wave activity used when a person focuses in on one individual in a crowd, letting a hearing aid teach itself to enhance the words. The processing speed needed is high, but Starkey is relying on advances in internet-connected wearables.

EarLens has developed a hearing aid which converts sound to laser pulses. Part of the device is inserted in the inner ear, delivering clear and “more natural” audio than other hearing aids. EarLens can also use Bluetooth to send smartphone calls directly into the ear. A pair of EarLens aids cost $12,000.

A smartphone app called Ava translates speech to text. For a group of more than two people, two or more smartphones are needed to transcribe and identify who’s speaking on the screen. More than 50,000 people use this app. It is free for up to five hours each month or $30 for unlimited hours.

Other ways to assist those with hearing loss is to install audio loops in public places. Loop technology converts audio from public address speakers into magnetic waves picked up by a person’s hearing aid.

Researchers continue to look for ways to heal the ears themselves, be it using stem cells or gene therapy. People who have hearing loss should not wait for new technologies to emerge a decade away. A person should not go long without sending information to the brain, as studies show a link between hearing loss and declines in brain function.
Evangelista, Benny. “How Apple AirPods could make future hearing aids cool.” Business. San Francisco Chronicle, 12 Jun 2017. Web. 14 Jun 2017.

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