The hearing aid industry is intensely competitive, in part because only 2% of the entire U.S. population wears a hearing aid. Thats not very many people, and with dozens of hearing aid manufacturers out there, all competing for that small market share, innovation is critical to success.
Over the past 15 years, theres been remarkable strides made in hearing technology and science more accurate sound measurement systems, better, smaller circuitry, improved microphone technology and much more.
One of the most significant breakthroughs is the concept of lifestyle-based hearing aid programming designing a hearing device for the way you live life. Bernafon, a leading maker of premium-quality hearing devices, has developed an interactive, computer-based system that puts patients in real world situations situations that either are or are not a part of each patients daily life. Heres an example:
Lets say that one patient works eight hours a day in a fairly noisy factory environment. Loud sound bursts from machinery happen throughout the day and despite wearing ear cups, the patient complains of hearing loss.
Now, the next patient who walks through the door is a college professor who spends a great deal time in quiet, study environments. She also operates in small classrooms and those college amphitheaters where 400 freshmen all take History 101. Now, does the factory worker need the same hearing aid as the college professor? Should the device settings be the same?
Of course not. These two people have two very different lifestyles and because they do, they need hearing devices designed specifically for the typical environments in which they spend their time.
Bernafons Lifestyle Driven Technology
Because we live in such diverse environments, theres no such thing as a one size fits all hearing device. Each hearing aid must first fit the routine activities of the wearer. Next, the device must be properly configured to deliver the highest quality sound in the most common environments in which the patient interacts.
There are many remarkable hearing measurement technologies to provide hard data on a patient, e.g. ability to hear high frequency sound or the ability to isolate relevant sound in a noisy environment. This hard data forms the basis for determining the type and severity of an individual patients hearing loss. But our lives are much more complicated than a compilation of hard data. Each day is different. Each day, we do different things and were exposed to varying levels of noise from a quiet walk in the country to riding the cross-town bus in New York City.
Thats why Bernafon developed its lifestyle driven technology not simply to produce a numeric profile of the patient, but to develop a better picture of the patients daily routines and environments his or her lifestyle. And every lifestyle is different.
Determining lifestyle parameters presents one big challenge. Developing hard data is simple using sound measurement and testing equipment. These tools provide the irrefutable, hard facts. Determining a lifestyle is much more complex. Life has many more dimensions than can be measured by a machine. Even more, the hearing professional must rely on the subjective description of a patients lifestyle. No hard numbers but a lot of impressions.
My husband thinks I play the TV too loud.
I have a hard time hearing when Im sitting at the back of the room.
I dont have a hearing problem. I hear just fine!
These are subjective analyses, not hard data. But, these subjective analyses are just as important as mechanized hearing evaluation results. In fact, when combined, the audiologist or hearing health professional can develop a more complete, three-dimensional picture of the patient. Active lifestyle, sedentary, plays in a rock band, kayaks, spends the work day on the telephone all of these kinds of life style components, along with the hard data collected by the hearing professional, contribute to the highest levels of hearing quality, individualized for each patient.
ICOS from Bernafon
In Spring of 2006, Bernafon introduced the first lifestyle-based programmable hearing aids in the industry and the marketplace, called ICOS. With this particular product, you could have someone walk into your office, conduct an interview to determine the patients needs and daily lifestyle, and with that, develop the foundation for the lifestyle [hearing aid] fitting. The information obtained from the patient in conversation actually becomes the building blocks for a personalized hearing aid fitting.
As of February 2007, Prio came to market, offering an additional mid-priced, life-style based product line. Lifestyle based programming allows for the end-user to truly have their listening needs met and experience satisfaction with their hearing instrument.
The fitting emphasis may address questions such as: "What brought that patient into my office?", "What is it that they're having difficulty hearing on a daily or weekly basis?" In the case of the Prio products specifically, the algorithms were designed for the [micro] chip to take into account what acoustic cues and characteristics are present in listening environments that the patient encounters daily.
Algorithms are complex mathematical formulas that tell the hearing device (more like a computer for the ear than an old fashioned amplifier) how to adjust itself in a variety of routine lifestyle conditions.
This approach to finding the right device and the right settings shifts the activities of the audiologist from simply collecting data to interpreting that data, as well, based on either an informal or structured talk with the patient. By asking simple questions, the hearing professional develops a more complete and accurate picture of the patient and his or her hearing needs and daily life.
This approach is supported by Bernafons Oasis Plus software which replicates routine lifestyle situations as the hearing device is being adjusted by the audiologist.
For example, the screen on the left shows a scenario in which the patient is sitting in a theater. By asking a series of screen-driven questions, the audiologist is able to develop a more accurate picture of the patients lifestyle and hearing needs.
The more data a hearing professional has on a patient objective measurements provided by hearing measurement tools and subjective descriptions from patients input within a structured life style computer model, the better the professional will be able to tune the hearing device to suit both hearing and lifestyle needs.
The result? A hearing device that not only fits comfortably, but a device that also delivers sound at appropriate volumes depending on the environment and the subjective input from the patient using any or all of the 80 different lifestyle factors contained in the Oasis Plus software.
You Dont Fit the Hearing Aid; It Fits You.
Thats the impetus that drove Bernafon to develop, not only the Oasis life style evaluation software, but to develop a multi-dimensional approach to improved hearing device fitting.
Even more important to many wearers is automated convenience. Making volume and other adjustments to a hearing aid (during an important business meeting, for example) is more than a nuisance. It makes a statement about you, unfortunately.
Thats why Bernafon devices are programmed to recognize listening environments or situations (Oh, were in a movie theater) and make adjustments automatically to suit the environment and the hearing needs of the wearer.
Bernafon and other makers of high-quality, innovative hearing devices, are constantly developing improved features and functions in this highly competitive marketplace. And the winner is you.
If youre just thinking about a hearing aid purchase, think about things like appearance (should be kind of cool), functionality (automated to the max) and sound quality (should sound as natural as possible recognizing that no device is going to give you the sense of hearing that nature gave you) and finally, cost. Dont make cost your top-most priority. Youre going to be living with this device for a long time.
You want it to feel good, you want it to look good and you want it to sound good. And today, thats not too much to ask.
For more information about Bernafon, visit www.bernafon-us.com.