Hearing aids once may have appeared to many people to be bulky, cumbersome devices that were uncomfortable to wear and announced to the world that you had hearing loss. But these days, you might not even be aware that the person sitting next to you is donning a pair of gadgets that are so tiny and thin that they are primarily concealed between the earlobes. Even more shocking might be learning that the individual can modify those hearing aids with a few taps on a smartphone app, making it simpler for them to hear what you're saying in a crowded, noisy setting.
Dr. Hope Lanter says, "Hearing aids have a cool element. Lanter is the lead audiologist at hear.com, an online retailer of hearing aids from several manufacturers that also provides access to a nationwide network of audiologists who can provide in-person testing and consultation. According to a news release, Hear.com has introduced its own cutting-edge device, the horizon, which was created in collaboration with engineers from hearing aid manufacturer Signia. According to Hear.com, the device has a "sleek, seductive and practically invisible design with cutting-edge capabilities and unrivaled power." This description is reminiscent of one from an exotic SUV commercial.
The Horizon is built to interface with smartphones and other devices, handle phone conversations, stream podcasts, audiobooks, and audio from TV in addition to using an algorithm to improve speech clarity. There are exciting features in other hearing aids available on the market as well. For instance, the Livio AI hearing aid uses artificial intelligence and built-in sensors to improve speech understanding and works with a smartphone app to monitor both physical and mental activity. Even better, it offers a function that translates other languages for users.
An Increase In Hearing Problems
At a time when hearing loss appears to be increasing both in the United States and globally, hearing aid technology is advancing. According to the Mayo Clinic, some hearing loss is brought on by aging, heredity, or diseases like meningitis that can harm the ears. But in our increasingly noisy society, loud noise exposure, which used to primarily be a problem for industrial employees, is becoming a bigger issue. According to a 2012 study by University of Michigan researchers, roughly nine out of ten New Yorkers were regularly exposed to noise levels that could damage their hearing.
Traffic and other external noises do pose a risk, but merely going to sporting events and concerts puts our ears through a lot of pain. Additionally harmful is using earbuds to listen to music and turning up the volume to cover up outside sounds that the earbuds let in. As a result, more and more of us are experiencing hearing issues at a younger age. Less than half of American adults surveyed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in 2021 stated their hearing was outstanding, while another 38% said it wasn't as good as it could be and 13% said they had trouble hearing.
However, just roughly 20% of respondents to the poll had their hearing examined in the previous five years, compared to 61% who had vision exams, 52% who had blood pressure checks, and 41% who had mammograms or had their cholesterol levels checked. Even less common than treatments like colonoscopies (24%) and prostate checks are hearing tests. Only 6% of respondents to the poll stated they had received treatment for hearing loss.
Kirsten Palladino, editorial director and co-founder of Equally Wed and a native of Atlanta, was born with profound hearing loss in both ears. She can't even recall getting her first hearing aid fitting. She writes in an email, "I know that I refused to wear them in third grade and kept them in my desk drawer." Palladino, now 43, says it wasn't until she was failing her college courses because she was missing crucial material that she eventually went to an audiologist and received hearing aids again. "I was so embarrassed of them... I just wanted to blend in and I felt like I stood out," she says.
The Brain Interprets the Noise the Ears Hear
Waiting, as Palladino did, is problematic, according to Lanter, since the longer hearing loss is ignored, the worse it will get and the more challenging it will be to treat. Although the ears detect sound, it is the brain that actually analyzes and interprets the noise. And over time, hearing deprivation will cause the areas of the brain that process sound to become less active. According to Lanter, "if you stop using particular parts of the brain, you lose them." There is an adjustment phase after a person with hearing loss begins wearing hearing aids, according to Lanter. The sudden flood of strange sound may be unnerving at first.
She says, "At first, it feels like too much." But over time, when a hearing aid user fine-tunes and finds the ideal settings with the assistance of an audiologist, the regular exposure to sound can actually assist the brain in rewiring itself. According to Lanter, brain imaging studies demonstrate that areas that process audio are growing while sections that handle visual information are less taxed. Since 2002, Palladino has worn Miracle-Ear hearing aids, despite the fact that they don't have many bells and whistles. "With my hearing aids, I can hear my children, my wife, the rain, strangers in stores trying to get my attention, and an ambulance blasting its siren behind me in the road," he says. "Without them, I'm isolated and defenseless; with them, I'm able to operate in society."
In fact, technologically improved hearing aids can aid in easing that shift. The relaxed mode function on Hear.com's horizon "turns off the mics and immerses you in ocean wave sound," according to Lanter. With that power, a wearer can temporarily tune out outside noise and unwind to soothing music. Another benefit of being able to take breaks while still wearing the device is that it reduces the likelihood that the user may forget to put their hearing aids back in after taking a break from wearing them.