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Hearing Aids by Tricia Leagjeld - Redmond, OR

Woman wearing hearing aids climbing hill with family and laughing at a joke.

When was the last time you used that old ear trumpet? No? You don’t have one? Because that technology is hundreds of years old. Okay, I suppose that seems logical. Ear trumpets are a bit… antiquated.

The fundamental shape of the modern hearing aid was developed in the 1950s. And that old model hearing aid tends to be the one we generally remember and think of. The problem is that a hearing aid developed in the 1950s is just about as antiquated as a hearing trumpet. We need to really advance our thinking if we want to recognize how much better modern hearing aids are.

Hearing Aids, Then And Now

In order to better recognize just how sophisticated hearing aids have become, it’s helpful to have some perspective about where they began. If we follow the history back far enough, you can probably find some form of hearing assistance device as far back as the 1500s (whether any of them ever actually helped you hear better is probably unlikely).

The “ear trumpet” was probably the first somewhat effective hearing assistance mechanism. This device was shaped like, well, a long trumpet. The wide end pointed out and the narrow end was oriented inside your ear. At present, you wouldn’t consider this device high tech, but back then they actually provided some assistance.

The real innovation came once someone invited electricity to the party. In the 1950s the hearing aid that we are all familiar with was created. In order to perform their function, they used large old fashioned style batteries and transistors in a quite basic design. But a hearing aid that could be conveniently worn and hidden started with these devices. The hearing aids of the 1950s may have looked similar to modern hearing aids but the technology and functionality is worlds apart.

Hearing Aid’s Modern Capabilities

Modern hearing aids are a technological masterpieces, to put it bluntly. And they’re constantly developing. Since the later years of the twentieth century, modern hearing aids have been benefiting from digital technologies in some powerful ways. Power is the first and most essential way. Modern hearing aids can store considerably more power into a much smaller space than their earlier predecessors.

And with that increased power comes a large number of sophisticated advances:

  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss doesn’t manifest through all frequencies and wavelengths equally. Perhaps low frequency sound gets lost (or vice versa). Contemporary hearing aids can be programmed to boost only those sounds that you can’t hear very well, creating a much more efficient hearing aid.
  • Speech recognition: For many hearing aid users, the biggest objective of these devices is to facilitate communication. Separating and amplifying voices, then, is a primary function of the software of many hearing aids–which can be very handy in a wide variety of situations, from a packed restaurant to an echo-y board room.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Your hearing aids can now communicate with other devices using wireless Bluetooth technology. You will use this function every day. Old style hearing aids, for example, would have aggravating feedback when you would attempt to talk on the telephone. With modern hearing aids, you can just connect to your cellphone using Bluetooth connectivity and never miss a call. You will also use Bluetooth functions to participate in a variety of other electronic activities. This means simple, feedback free connection to your TV, music, etc.
  • Health monitoring: Modern hearing aids are also able to incorporate sophisticated health tracking software into their options. if you have a fall, for instance, some hearing aids can recognize that. Other functions can count your steps or give you exercise encouragement.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids are usually made of advanced materials, so they feel more comfortable. While these new materials enable hearing aids to be more comfortable, it also enables them to be more robust. It’s easy to see how hearing aids have improved on the outside as well as the inside by adding long lasting and rechargeable batteries.

Just like rotary phones no longer exemplify long-distance communication, older hearing aids no longer represent what these devices are. Hearing aids aren’t what they used to be. And we should be excited because they’re a lot better than they were.

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