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Hearing Aids: Why They DON'T Suck

It is a battle hearing professionals fight each and every day, the battle of convincing the thousands of Americans who could benefit from a pair of hearing aids that, to put it bluntly, hearing aids don’t suck. In fact hearing aids far from suck, they improve not only hearing loss but also quality of life.

Numerous studies have shown how treating hearing loss with hearing aids improves overall quality of life, improves earning power on the job and improves love and marriage. The list could go on and on, but you get the picture.

The advancements in hearing aid technology and design are incredible and have not gone unrecognized. Many major hearing aid manufacturers are winning awards by consumer groups for not only their design but their innovative technologies that are changing the lives of those with hearing loss.

So why does this battle continue to exist? The battle of educating consumers that hearing aids have improved and do you good and more important, that they don’t suck. If only there could be a consumer awareness campaign like the milk industry’s “Milk Does a Body Good” but instead “Hearing Aids Does a Life Good” or something like that.

The Story behind Why Hearing Aids Don’t Suck

If you’re into super fast computers, cell phones that keep you in touch, PDAs that amuse you at the airport and room-to-room stereo sound systems, than you know the magazine Wired.

It’s hip, glib and glossy, and usually worth reading from cover to cover if you’re a chip head, gamer or just an electronics geek. A little over a year ago, author Erin Biba wrote an article called “Why Things Suck: Hearing Aids,” and the article quickly rose to page one rankings in Google.

Unfortunately the article is filled with mis-information and dis-information, providing fuel for the battle hearing professionals are fighting. Wired did the public a disservice by publishing this article, which may have prevented people who would benefit from a pair of hearing aids from getting a hearing evaluation and having themselves fitted for hearing aids.

And here we are today, talking about the fact that hearing aids do NOT suck. In fact, they’ve improved the lives of millions of people in many ways.

  • People who wear hearing aids can work longer and maintain productivity.
  • Hearing aids equip individuals with hearing loss to enjoy the sounds of life and to stay connected with family, friends and the rest of the world improving overall quality of life and reducing isolation and depression. 
  • Hearing aid users can hear alarms and other warnings of danger at work, at home or in the community.

Breaking Down Hearing Aid Myths

Digital hearing aids
Sleek, small and sassy - today's hearing aids Photo courtesy Oticon

We are living in the digital age. Every gadget we own is now digital and as consumers we expect exceptional sound quality in our electronics. Hearing aids should be no different.

According to the Hearing Industries Association, the majority of hearing aids sold in the US in 2009 were digital – analog hearing aids have easily found their place at the hearing aid museum.

With digital technology have come improvements in every aspect of hearing aids. Unfortunately there are still many negative myths that exist about hearing aids, which was evident when one of the most well respected electronics magazines published an article on how hearing aids and hearing aid manufacturers have done little to improve ear gear through the year.

Hearing aid manufacturers invest millions each year in research and development, focusing on technology and features which will not only improve sound quality but improve the lives of those who with hearing loss.

Digital signal processing, microphones, design, ease of use and batteries are a just few areas that have improved dramatically over the last few years.

How Hearing Aids Have Improved

The hearing aid market is highly competitive. There are dozens of hearing aid manufacturers globally, all competing for the same buyers. Considering that only 25% of Americans who have hearing loss wear hearing aids, you can see just how competitive the market is so, of course, manufacturers have to keep making improvements to maintain market share.

Hearing Aid Microphones

Unfortunately many people, including the Wired article, still believe hearing aids pick up all sounds and amplify everything equally. The fact is hearing aids have actually improved in picking up all sounds – that is what we want them to do. However, where they have improved is in directional hearing thanks to improvements in directional microphones.

Even economy models come standard with directional microphones designed to amplify sounds the hearing aid wearer wants to and needs to hear. So, if you’re in a crowded restaurant, these microphones are programmed to amplify the sounds made by your dinner companion while reducing ambient noise, regardless of how loud it is, around you. In fact, directional microphones are so sophisticated they automatically adapt and follow the unwanted noise moving around you. This allows for the hearing aids only to reduce sound that is unwanted while maintain the amplification for the sound you want to hear.

If you still need convincing, directional microphones in combination with the signal processing of the hearing aids, can determine speech versus background noise. Thus if someone starts talking to your side or behind you, the directional microphones know not to reduce the speech allowing you to hear and turn around when someone calls your name or asks you a question. Simply amazing.

Digital Signal Processing

Thanks to digital technology, hearing aid manufacturers have made unbelievable strides in digital, microprocessor technology while keeping per unit costs stable. (Studies have shown that overtime the cost of hearing aids has not kept up with the rate of inflation.)

Today’s hearing aids come with a variety of features, all driven by increasingly sophisticated digital microprocessors. 

  • Digital noise reduction allows for the hearing aid to determine incoming sound as either speech or noise. If determined to be noise, amplification is not applied to those sounds – improving overall comfort for the hearing aid user. 
  • Automatic feedback suppression technology automatically detects and reduced whistling that can occur when hearing aids are worn. Very rarely do you hear new digital hearing aids whistling on wearers anymore. 
  • There are hearing aids designed to “learn” the listening preferences of the wearer and even log changes the hearing aid wearer has manually made. This information can help the hearing professional make more accurate programming changes to the hearing aids at a future appointment. 
  • Even low-cost hearing aids offer automated volume control so the hearing aid “reads” sound levels and turns the volume up or down accordingly. 
  • There are hearing aid microprocessors that send wireless signals from the right ear to the left automatically, providing a more balanced, satisfying listening experience. • Hearing aids can now act as a personal headset by connecting to other audio devices (i.e. cell phones, MP3 players) thanks to the integration of Bluetooth technology.
  • There are hearing aids that contain microprocessors that announce when changes have been made, when the battery is getting low and even when you have an appointment with your hearing aid professional.

It is pretty obvious hearing aid technology HAS improved within the last few years. Hearing aids are no longer a piece of plastic making sounds louder – they are mini computers digitizing, manipulating and amplifying sounds through sophisticated technology. They are mini computers for your ears.

Today, you can buy a decent laptop for half what you’d pay just 10 years ago because the technology has already paid for itself. The exact same economic principle applies to hearing aid technology. Many of the technologies listed above are available at every price point, which is good news for persons with hearing loss. Quality hearing solutions, for all budgets.

Hearing Aid Batteries

Hearing aid batteries are one of the most important hearing aid accessories required for hearing aid use. And they get a bad rap because they don’t last very long. However battery life has improved slightly through the years since hearing aids are processing sound and amplifying more efficiently thanks to digital technology.

Hearing aids drain batteries based on their size and their strength. The smaller the hearing aid, the smaller the battery and less longevity. Smaller batteries simply do not last as long because of their size – this is one sacrifice when going for a small, cosmetically appealing device.

Additionally, there have been other strides in hearing aid battery technology. Let’s start with rechargeable models. Some hearing aids use rechargeable hearing aid batteries – allowing the batteries to be recharged at night for reuse.

Next, hearing aid batteries have gone green, by going mercury free. Federal legislations required hearing aid battery manufacturers to remove the small trace amount of mercury that was in hearing aid batteries. They have done this successfully by not sacrificing battery life.

Hearing aid battery makers have taken the lead in developing batteries that last longer, deliver more power in a smaller space and don’t pollute the planet.

Hearing Aid Design

Have you seen a hearing aid recently? With many of today’s new sleek designs, you actually have to look for a hearing aid on someone’s ear – they are just that cosmetically appealing.

Hearing aid manufacturers have put a lot of effort the last few years in the design of their hearing aids. Like eyeglasses, hearing aids can now be considered an accessory – not a nuisance.

Winning design awards right and left, hearing aids are available in a rainbow of colors from high-tech chrome to cabernet red. New open ear designs allow for the ear canal to remain open for a natural feel and fit, while discreetly hiding the mini hearing aid behind the ear. Again, you have to actually look to see these hearing aids.

So good bye to Gramps’ big and beige, hello to small, sleek and sassy.

Hearing is Living

Recent data from the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) suggests hearing aids have improved through the years based on how much of a difference they are making in the lives of the millions of Americans that are wearing them.

Hearing aid satisfaction with perceived benefit has now reached 86% based on BHI’s data – which is evidence that improvements in digital hearing aid technology is making a difference is overall use and satisfaction.

And even better – the “hearing aids in the drawer” statistic has decreased, demonstrating those with hearing loss WANT to wear their hearing aids because they are hearing better and living better with their hearing aids.

With improved hearing and improved quality life, hearing aids really can’t be that bad and they definitely don’t suck.

Talk with a hearing professional today about your hearing loss and why hearing aids don’t suck. They probably have a book full of testimonials to show how much of a difference hearing aids they have fit are making in the lives of their patients.

Hearing is living and thanks to today’s digital technology people with hearing loss are living that much more.

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