Modern hearing aids
What can you expect from the latest generation of hearing aids?
New hearing technology
Modern hearing aids are tiny, high-performance computers. Thanks to their sophisticated technology and wireless connectivity to other devices, they significantly improve your quality of life.
Here you can find out about the useful and smart functions you can expect from a modern hearing aid, as well as the fantastic possibilities hearing aids will offer in the near future.
Latest technology enables improved quality of life
For decades, hearing aids were mere amplifiers. They paid little attention to the individual characteristics of hearing loss or the needs of the wearer. They also tended to produce feedback.
Thankfully, all this has changed. Modern hearing aids are miracles of digital technology in terms of their shape and size and are almost or completely invisible when worn. They can be adjusted individually to suit the needs of the wearer’s hearing loss, and they have automatic programs for any environment.
This means, for example, that loud background noise is muted while voices are amplified. What’s more, with Bluetooth they can transmit sound directly from other devices such as smartphones, smartwatches or Bluetooth enabled smart TVs.
All of these achievements make everyday life much easier for people with hearing loss. The result is a significantly improved quality of life.
Did you know?
Modern hearing aids have a significantly longer battery life than those of just a few years ago, thanks to optimised, energy-saving technology. Read on to find out how a hearing aid works.
Structure of a modern hearing aid
Most hearing aids have a similar structure: They have one or two microphones, an amplifier and a speaker. The operating principle is simple: The microphones pick up background noise, and the sound is converted into electronic impulses and processed. The signals – which are amplified and modulated as necessary – are then converted back into sound and forwarded to the ear. This principle is the same for all modern hearing aids. However, there are crucial development differences, such as the quality of the processing and electronics, functionality of the programs, connection possibilities and so on.
The heart of the modern hearing aid: a tiny computer
Modern hearing aids are smart wearables – or to be more precise, “hearables”, which work using digital technology. “Hearables” is a relatively new term. This term refers to technology like earphones, which have additional functions such as wireless connectivity to smartphones, sensors for medical monitoring and activity trackers.
These technology products open up a whole new set of possibilities. The sound signal is – after accurate adjustment by a hearing care professional – modified so that it best offsets individual hearing loss.
And with the help of sophisticated control and filter programs, modern hearing aids continually optimise amplified sounds by accurately adapting to the current listening situation.
The required processing power is provided by a tiny but extremely powerful computer. The computer in a modern hearing aid can perform more than 550 million calculations per second. This is comparable to the performance of a fully-fledged office computer.
Modern hearing aids – they’re super connected
Most modern hearing aids can connect (usually via Bluetooth or radio) wirelessly and exchange information with a wide range of other devices. Many hearing aids can wirelessly connect to mobile phones, smartwatches, smart TVs or Bluetooth enabled music players. This makes them the most modern wearables*, or to be more precise, hearables**.
The ingenious thing about modern hearing aids is that the voice of the other person on the phone, music, podcasts, or sounds from the TV are streamed directly into the hearing aid. This is a real milestone.
All background and static noise is faded out and the sound is transmitted crystal clear, directly into your ears. For hearing aid wearers, this is a real step forward.
Along with improved sound quality, wireless connectivity with smartphones presents even more advantages: The hearing aid settings are easily and conveniently controlled via an app on your smartphone or smartwatch. What’s more, the hearing care professional looking after you can access the hearing aid directly and wirelessly during your appointment.
360-degree sound localisation
Spatial hearing has always been vital to human survival. Our Stone Age ancestors needed it to hunt, but also to be warned in case of approaching danger.
Even in our modern world, we depend on directional hearing on a daily basis. For example, this applies when trying to pick out the right sounds from the jumble of noises and voices around us, or to locate a car approaching from behind.
Until recently, even if you wore two hearing aids you would largely miss out on natural three-dimensional hearing.
That’s because each device was set individually for the ear in question, but the sound profiles for both ears were not synchronised.
Most hearing aids also communicate with each other in both ears – delivering a far better listening experience.
Not only is this safer, but the wearers of these models have far more listening pleasure than before, despite their hearing loss.
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Rechargeable hearing aids
At the heart of modern hearing aids lies a tiny, high-performance computer that runs 24/7, which require a relatively high amount of energy.
Tiny but powerful hearing aid batteries, called cells, provide this energy. The disadvantage of them is that they need to be replaced at regular intervals. How long they last depends on a number of factors, including amplifier performance and battery type.
If hearing aids are regularly wirelessly connected to a smartphone or Smart TV, energy consumption increases significantly.
Generally, hearing aid batteries must be replaced after five to 10 days. This is what many wearers find annoying, mainly because dexterity decreases with age, making it difficult to replace tiny batteries. You also have to remember to carry spare batteries with you, especially when travelling. So why not charge hearing aids just as easily as electric toothbrushes or smartphones?
Lithium-ion batteries in hearing aids
The latest hearing aid generation with lithium-ion batteries makes this possible. Once charged, these hearing aids provide up to 24 hours of listening pleasure. The wearer’s daily routine is quite simple: at bedtime, the hearing aids go in the charging station and are ready for use in the morning.
Lithium-ion batteries in hearing aids are also better for the environment. This is because normally everyone who wears hearing aids in both ears will accumulate about100 zinc-air batteries a year that need to be disposed of.
The future of hearing aids
The ear is an ideal, protected location to place sensors. Some future hearing aids will therefore be equipped with different signal transmitters, both to optimise the hearing aid sound (sensors for EEG signals) and to monitor the general health of the wearer, for example by measuring their blood sugar level or blood pressure.
Hearing aids that can lip read
Researchers in the UK and Switzerland are working on a hearing aid that can also lip read, in addition to the standard hearing aid function. In concrete terms, a miniature camera worn on glasses or on a necklace picks up the other person’s mouth movements and turns them into auditory signals. This is a great help, especially in noisy environments.
Interpreter in the ear
As so-called wearables* and/or hearables**, hearing aids will also be appealing to people with intact hearing in the future – not just for listening to music and phone calls discreetly in your ear, but also for navigating or even interpreting real-time spoken texts – like the famous “Babel fish” earpiece from the classic science fiction novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Full restoration of hearing
Will hearing aids become redundant one day thanks to medical advances? This is hardly conceivable from today’s perspective. Nevertheless, research groups in the UK and US are working on a method that will regenerate damaged or dead hair cells in the cochlea with the help of stem cells. Experiments with deaf gerbils have already achieved the first positive results.
*Wearables: Small, networked computers that can be worn on the body to support the wearer in everyday life. Some examples include fitness trackers and smartwatches.
**Hearables: Earphones with additional functions, such as wireless connectivity to smartphones, sensors for medical monitoring and activity trackers.
***Please note that Bluetooth connectivity is only available for some Bluetooth enabled hearing aids.