Hearing loss is a common part of the aging experience, so much so that the National Institute on Aging estimates that one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 suffers from hearing loss. That number increases to half among those over the age of 75.
Naturally, there are a variety of devices that have been created to help those suffering from hearing loss. Some of these devices will be familiar, while others you may have never heard of. But it’s important to know the benefits of each and what they involve if you are looking for hearing enhancements.
The Modern Hearing Aid
When you envision a hearing aid, you probably see a bulky flesh colored object shoved in someone’s ear and a user periodically fine tuning its sensitivity with their finger. But these days, hearing aids are a lot more sleek, comfortable and discreet. Most of them have the ability to connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth so that the user can control their settings with an app. This also allows for the user to stream audio directly into the hearing aid.
Don’t expect the advances to stop any time soon either. Current studies are focused how directional microphones and noise reduction algorithms may help users get even more from their hearing aids in the future.
Additionally, access to hearing aids may be easier as over the counter versions which are cheaper have been cleared for sale by the Food and Drug Administration starting next year. While they will still require a prescription, they could provide a low cost, more convenient alternative to traditional hearing aids for those suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss.
These small electronic devices can help a person who is severely hard-of-hearing perceive sounds, particularly warning signals, sounds from their surroundings and the sound of someone’s voice when communicating via telephone.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), “the implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin.”
While hearing aids work to amplify sound to make it easier to hear, cochlear implants ignore damaged areas and instead help a listener perceive sound by stimulating the auditory nerve. That nerve transmits the sound to the brain, meaning hearing through a cochlear implant is profoundly different from hearing a user will have experienced for most of their life and takes time to learn.
Assisted Listening Devices
Able to be used with either hearing aids or cochlear implants, assisted listening devices present innovative ways for users to amplify sounds through private signals (hearing loops), FM waves or even infrared light.
Some of these devices also have the potential to help those who struggle to communicate due to hearing loss or conditions such as brain stem strokes, which can cause a loss of ability to use limbs and to speak. Two interesting areas of research the NIDCD is funding are text to speech synthesis systems and brain computer interfaces.
The latter is a particularly interesting area of research that involves implanting electrodes on the brain’s motor cortex. Researchers attempting to understand the potential of this technology are looking at how a person with this condition can manipulate communication software and command it to type messages by imagining the movement their hand. Separate studies are focused on the development of a prosthetic capable of translating a person’s thoughts into verbal expression using a synthetic voice. Yet another group of researches is aiming to develop wireless devices that monitor a person’s brain activity triggered by visual stimulation.
Most hearing enhancement apps are tied to devices, be it hearing aids, cochlear implants or ALDs, but there are benefits mobile apps can provide for those older adults whose hearing loss is mild and want to prevent this issue becoming any worse.
Here are a few mobile apps designed to protect a person’s hearing that may have benefits for older adults in particular.
Wide Noise– allows users to monitor where noise pollution is occurring in their environment and monitor the level of exposure they’re experiencing.
Soundcheck– monitors the noise level of your surrounding environment to determine whether you need to use some type of noise protection to protect your hearing from being damaged.
Hearcules– for those exposed to loud noises on a regular basis, this app tells you how much longer you can expect to experience that environment without it causing damage. It even alerts when it’s time to find a quiet spot.