Have you used your ear trumpet lately? No? You don’t use one? Because it’s a technology that’s hundreds of years out of date? Oh. Okay. I suppose that makes sense. Ear trumpets are a bit… antiquated.
The modern(ish) hearing aid, it turns out, was developed during the 1950s–the basic shape, that is. And for some reason, that’s the hearing aid that’s become established in our collective consciousness. The problem is that a hearing aid built in the 1950s is just about as antiquated as a hearing trumpet. To understand just how much better modern hearing aids are, we have to unshackle our imaginations.
The History of Hearing Aids
In order to better understand just how advanced hearing aids have become, it’s helpful to have some context about where they started. If we trace the history back far enough, you can probably find some form of hearing assistance device as far back as the 1500s (though, there’s no evidence that these wooden, ear-shaped artifacts actually worked).
The “ear trumpet” was probably the first marginally effective hearing assistance mechanism. This construct was shaped like, well, a long trumpet. The wide end faced the world and the narrow end was directed into your ear. These, er, devices weren’t exactly high tech, but they did offer some measurable assistance.
The real revolution came once someone invited electricity to the party. In the 1950s, in particular, the hearing aid as we know it was developed. They were quite rudimentary, relying on transistors and large, primitive batteries to get the job done. But these devices represent the birth of a hearing aid that could be easily worn and concealed. Of course, modern hearing aids may share the same shape and mission as those early 1950s models–but their performance goes light years beyond what was possible 70 years ago.
Modern Capabilities of Hearing Aids
Simply put, modern hearing aids are technological masterpieces. And they keep getting better. Since the later years of the twentieth century, modern hearing aids have been taking advantage of digital technologies in several profound ways. The first, and the most essential, way is simple: power. Modern hearing aids can pack significantly more power into a much smaller space than their earlier predecessors.
And with that greater power comes a long list of sophisticated advances:
- Selective amplification: Hearing loss does not manifest across all wavelengths and frequencies equally. Maybe you have a harder time hearing high-frequency noises (or vice versa). Modern hearing aids can be programmed to only amplify those sounds you need to be amplified, creating a much more effective hearing aid.
- Bluetooth connectivity: Your hearing aids can now connect to other devices via wireless Bluetooth technology. This can be amazingly useful on a daily basis. For example hearing aids used to have a hard time with telephone calls–users would experience significant (and sometimes uncomfortable) feedback. When you connect to your phone via Bluetooth, the transition is smooth and communication is easy. This applies to a wide variety of other scenarios involving electronic devices. Because there’s no feedback or interference, it’s easier to listen to music, watch TV–you name it.
- Health monitoring: Modern hearing aids are also able to incorporate sophisticated health monitoring software into their options. For example, some hearing aids can detect whether you’ve had a fall. Other features can count your steps or give you exercise encouragement.
- Speech recognition: For many hearing aid users, the ultimate goal of these devices is to facilitate communication. Many hearing aids, then, have built-in speech recognition software designed to isolate and amplify voices primarily–which can be pretty handy in a wide range of situations, from a crowded restaurant to an echo-y meeting room.
- Construction: Modern hearing aids are usually constructed out of high tech materials, so they feel more comfortable. These new materials allow hearing aids to be lighter and more robust at the same time. And with the addition of long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but the outside–of hearing aids have improved over the years.
Hearing Aids Are High Tech
Just as rotary phones no longer exemplify long-distance communication, the hearing aids of old no longer capture what these devices are. Hearing aids aren’t what they used to be. And that’s a good thing–because now they’re even better.