What's the latest in hearing aid equipment developments?
SENIOR adult rehabilitation audiologist at the University of Melbourne Audiology Clinic Dominic Power spoke to Seniors News about the latest hearing surgery and aid equipment developments.
Connectivity and convenience
Most manufacturers have a hearing aid that can interface with Bluetooth enabled mobile phones so that you can stream calls through your phone directly to the aid.
Within the last 12 months the technology in the batteries has made them more effective, safer and reliable. "Using lithium ion batteries in some aids or silver zinc battery in others has improved the reliability and convenience of rechargeable hearing aids," Mr Power said. "This means they are always ready to go and will give you a full day's use without any problems at all where in the past you would have been lucky to get seven or eight hours of continuous use from the batteries. Now it's 24 hours of continuous use on a charge."
While there is no real cost saving, there will be less batteries joining the landfill. "You will go through a battery every two years, perhaps, per hearing aid where if you are using regular hearing aid batteries, you may go through two hundred batteries every two years," he added.
This is still on the manufacturers agenda along with how the aids perform in high noise situations. "The aids are getting better at identifying speech in amongst noise and in enhancing speech and reducing the noise," Mr Power said.
There is now a hearing aid that can stay in an ear canal continuously for up to two to three months. It doesn't require battery changes or adjustments. "It just sits in there," Mr Power said. "People who have issues with dexterity or don't want the hassle of putting and taking out aids, or keep losing them, these ones can't be lost because they can't be removed."
To find out more about the latest in hearing aids, Mr Power recommends seniors should talk to their local accredited audiologist.
The latest in surgical options is the use of a Cochlear implant for single-sided deafness.
If someone has normal or near-normal hearing in one ear, but the other ear is completely gone, Mr Power said a Cochlear implant is being put in the poorer ear to improve the balance of sound and sound awareness.
"This is an area that's previously hasn't been explored because the surgical belief five years ago and more was if you've got one ear that works okay, then that's enough," Mr Power said. "There may have been the belief that externally that these people had enough hearing to get by, but the fact is they don't."
Mr Power said there have been mixed outcomes with this approach. "The brain does take a fair bit of time to adjust to the very different electronic input the Cochlear implant provides," he said. "With the right hard work, some people are reporting benefits while some are finding it a bit too hard for their auditory pathway to relearn what is going on."
WHAT IS IN THE FUTURE?
The manufacturers continue to try and improve how their aids extract speech from noise. In the USA, testing is being conducted with neural signals from equipment which is placed on a person's head which feeds back to hearing aids to inform the aid which of the 15 speakers, for example, being heard, which of them is of the most interest to the listener. It may be another five to 10 years before this project is completed.
"If they can get it to work, it will be enormous," Mr Power said.