Digital hearing aids are well on their way to representing the future of hearing impairment: many models come with remote controls that allow for adjustment of various settings, or omnidirectional microphones that pick up on the slightest sound from multiple directions.
Hearing aids have come a long way since the ear trumpets in the 1800s that were considered revolutionary.
Since then, the advancements have come very quickly, from analog to digital that we see today. In fact, most all hearing aids made today are digital, which is quite the accomplishment. Digital hearing aids allow audiologists to program each device according to the user’s specific degree of hearing loss. They can even adjust volume accordingly and cut out distracting background noise for a crisper listening experience.
With the advent of digital hearing aids, users can now connect to Bluetooth and other wireless technological services to make it easier to use the device and enjoy its operation. Users can also benefit from digital noise reduction, better frequency transposition, and increased range when wearing the unit.
Digital noise reduction technology surpasses that of directional microphones because it is based on the physical characteristics of noise and speech rather than the separation of space, taking into account speech modulation.
The First Digital Hearing Aids
The first digital hearing aids utilized DSP. They first emerged onto the scene in 1996 equipped with digital signal processing. Great for digital noise reduction, DSPs provided a boost in processing speeds which improved the ability to hear as well as the range of amplification for individuals wearing the hearing aid.
Single Sided Deafness
Before these big advancements in digital technology, those who suffered from single-sided deafness had to contend with greater background noise and were relegated to using their “good ear” to hear what was being said. Now, items like CROS devices and bone conduction devices, the good ear receives signals from the bad ear to improve on amplification.
Self-learning hearing aids are a hallmark of modern devices because they have self-learning or regulating tendencies. These “smart” hearing aids are great for adjusting settings like volume automatically after a period of time according to how the user prefers it. Control is put into the hands of the person wearing it, which is yet another advancement.
Older hearing aids amplified all sound, which was great for hearing words but this also presented an added challenge of filtering out the background noise that was also amplified. Today’s hearing aids can easily filter out that noise so that the user can hear words but not all the other stuff. Improvements in wireless technology have allowed for improved speech recognition and SNR, which stands for signal-to-noise ratio. Recent advancements mean hearing aids can actually communicate with each other as in the case of left and right ear instruments. Many manufacturers are breaking down technology walls with the use of digital magnetic wireless communication via chips in the devices that control settings like switch position and microphone modes. One huge complaint users of hearing aids have historically made is that it’s difficult to hear clearly with all the background noise.
The future of hearing devices is upon us. Digital hearing aids are truly more functional than their analog counterparts. Now, hearing impaired individuals can count on digital hearing aids to take advantage of innovative wireless technology and microelectronics. As such, the technology will only continue to expand through the decades.