March 1, 2012

What is new in hearing aids? A trend…

Parker,-Molly-NEWBy Dr. Molly Parker
Parker Audiology, PC

Oh my, hearing aids have come a long way!

About 85 years ago, people walked around carrying a bullhorn to help them hear. These captured some sounds…as long as they were loud enough to begin with! About 70 years ago, people used body-aids. These provided pure unbridled power to the severe/profound hearing impaired, but often caused more noise-induced hearing loss. And normal hearing folks were introduced to feedback. About 50 years ago, the eyeglass-hearing aids were invented for your convenience—so that when your hearing aids broke, you had to send the entire unit to be repaired, thus becoming instantly hearing—and vision— impaired. The completely in the canal (CIC) hearing aids were invented 20 years ago for invisibility, and in the 2000s, nearly all hearing aids sold were digital. We now have hearing aid technology, surgeries and research for stem cell therapies to help you now and in the future.

Today, hearing aids are equipped to provide maximum flexibility. Even “basic” hearing aids can be made appropriate for a large variety of losses. We can control soft vs. loud sounds. We can protect your hearing at a variety of frequencies. In most cases, feedback has become a memory, and this continues to improve. Directionality doesn’t get rid of all background noise but it sure improves the situation. We have connections that will enable you to connect to your TV, phone, and added microphones to hear others at a distance. Hearing aids are no longer “aids,” they are now hearing systems! And the ease of technology continues to improve. Some companies will allow long-distance programming of hearing aids.

On other fronts, there are surgical options including the Esteem (the first surgically implantable “hearing aid”), the cochlear implant (which can be applied to more hearing losses than ever), the bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA), and other types of surgical interventions, if you are a candidate. In the distant future, we hope to cure hearing loss with science by using stem-cell research to re-grow nerve endings in the ears. Could hearing aids be obsolete someday? Hopefully so!

So, to the hearing aid wearer, those fingernails on the chalkboard don’t have to be quite so annoying as they are to your hearing counterparts. And to the good-hearing folks in the world, the TV doesn’t have to be quite so loud. We can’t solve true selective hearing (that is, if you really don’t want to hear your spouse), but if you want to hear, there are solutions for nearly everyone.