Overcoming stigmas: get to know Modern Hearing Devices

For those diagnosed with a hearing impairment, the news that there is an effective intervention will be welcome. But it can be daunting when faced with a choice, given the wide range of hearing devices now available.

Stigma related to the use of a hearing device can be a significant barrier, as outlined by the most recent EuroTrak 2022 surveys in various countries. One of the main reasons given by people when asked why they choose not to wear a hearing device is that they will be embarrassed. But, on the contrary, the vast majority of hearing aid-users say that they are more likely to be made fun of if they do not use hearing aids due to their hearing impairment. In Germany, 74% of hearing aid owners feel that people never make fun of or reject them because of their hearing aids, while in Spain and the UK 64% of respondents agreed with this.

The effectiveness and sleek design of modern hearing devices is at least partly to thank for this. Most devices contain some similar basic elements: a microphone that picks up sound, amplifier circuitry that makes the sound louder; a miniature loudspeaker (or “receiver”) that delivers the amplified sound into the ear canal; and the batteries required to power the electronic parts.

Yet the design and technology used can differ, and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to hearing devices. Different devices may suit different people depending on their type and severity of hearing loss, their personal listening needs, and lifestyle factors.

Types of hearing devices

Behind-the-ear (BTE) and in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are the two most commonly used styles. The ITE hearing aids include the in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid, or the completely-in-the-canal (CIC) option. The CIC hearing aids are smaller and sit much deeper in the canal than the ITC version.

How tech is revolutionising hearing aid features

Technology means that there have been significant advances in the effectiveness of different hearing devices in recent years. Many now feature automatic directional microphones, which automatically switch to pick up sound from a given direction, depending on the surrounding noise level. This allows enhanced speech understanding but also reduces the listening effort. Similarly, binaural directionality “better-ear-effect” is a type of binaural directionality that emphasises sounds on the better ear when there is more noise detected in one ear compared to the other.

Remote wireless microphones are separate devices that pick up and send sound directly to a hearing device using radio waves. The benefit is that this enhances volume, clarity and quality of speech, especially in the presence of background noise or speech coming from a distance.

Most modern hearing devices now use wide dynamic range compression, which is a feature used to make soft sounds louder and prevent loud sounds from being uncomfortably loud, while high fidelity sound can help tailor the sound quality. Adaptive noise reduction technology can differentiate which parts of a sound is primarily speech and which is primarily noise, helping to enhance the speech signal above the noise for easier listening.

Advanced sensors in hearing devices such as motion or location sensors can help provide further information to optimise the hearing settings for different listening environments and even collect health information such as physical activity and location, social engagement, and provide insights into a wearer’s health and lifestyle.

Bluetooth technology, smartphone apps and even artificial intelligence are now being used to ensure hearing devices are as effective and user-friendly as possible. Bluetooth technology allows hearing aids to connect to phones and other devices to allow for phone calls and audio streaming, just like with earbuds. Smartphone apps typically allow the wearer to adjust volume features and properties, such as frequency balance and noise reduction. Some hearing device manufacturers have also implemented additional applications including converting speech into text, language translation, and even location-based trackers to find lost hearing aids. “Smart personalisation” is becoming more sophisticated, with hearing aid manufacturers applying algorithms and technologies such as artificial intelligence to learn the device user’s preferences over time.

Overcoming stigmas: embracing fashionable and stylish hearing devices

Hearing aids are no longer clunky and conspicuous – advanced technology and design means they are now extremely sleek, discreet and comfortable without losing any of their effectiveness. And the beige hearing aids of yesteryear are no more – colours and designs can be personalised to suit individual preferences. In addition, “invisible hearing aids” are new types of hearing aids that sit even deeper in the ear canal near the ear drum. These can be left in the ear for a certain time period before being replaced.

An audiologist will help you choose the most appropriate device for you, depending on your level of hearing loss and your lifestyle needs. The important thing to remember is that no matter what the design, all modern hearing aids are extremely effective in helping the user to overcome their hearing loss.

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