By Shari S. Beams, Ph.D., CCC-A, FAAA
Posted February 1st, 2020
Since their earliest development, hearing aids have benefited from advances in technology. The earliest hearing aids were tabletop models. The aid was so large it was actually a large box that could not be carried. You had to sit next to it. You wore headphones connected to the aid with a cord so that you could here. Obviously there are some significant limitations with a hearing aid that large. As technology allowed for miniaturization in electronic components, hearing aids were developed that were smaller and smaller so that they went from table-top, to body-style, to behind-the-ear. Now we have hearing aids that are practically invisible, and some that are implanted.
In my 28+ year career as an Audiologist, I have seen many changes in hearing aids. When I was still a graduate student in college, working in the University Clinic, we were very limited in the changes that we could make to the sound quality. If the patient complained that the sound was too tinny, or too loud, or had too much base, we had small “trimpots” on the hearing aids that we could turn using tiny eyeglass style screwdrivers. If we couldn’t adjust the sound enough, then the hearing aid would have to be sent back to the manufacturer to have a different electronic circuit installed. If the aid was small, there may only be one trimpot, larger aids could have up to four trimpots for adjustments. It allowed us to make some adjustments, but very limited. There were often delays in fitting the aids because we had to wait for the aids to be shipped back and forth from the manufacturer.
Before I finished my doctoral training we were all excited by 2 major developments. The first is the development of the Completely-In-Canal or CIC hearing aid. The University sent the doctoral student to a manufacturing plant for a training workshop. We learned how to make deeper impressions of ears to make sure we could make the hearing aids small enough. These were the smallest hearing aids we had ever seen. They were practically invisible and everyone wanted one. It had a tiny battery that had to be changed every three days. They were such a marvel!
The second development was the digital hearing aid. Initially the aids were digitally controlled analog aids. We had hand-held programmers that we would plug in to the hearing aids with cords. These new programmers allowed us to make more changes to the sound quality. It was a vast improvement. We didn’t have to send hearing aids back in to the manufacturer as often. Digital hearing aids progressed to full digital aids where we used computers to program the settings while still plugging cords into the aids. Now we have wireless programmers and we can even program hearing aids remotely over the phone and by uploading files to the cloud! If you had asked me when I started studying Audiology, if I could imagine what the future of hearing aids would be, I never would have imagined: hearing aids with artificial intelligence, aids that can translate foreign languages, can transcribe or create captions for live speech, even hearing aids that can text a loved one if you fall and don’t get up! Hearing aids have Bluetooth built in so people can talk hands-free on their phones through their aids, apps for smart phones that let them make adjustments to the sound quality, and rate their listening experiences to help the Audiologist set the programming, and even perform diagnostic checks on the hearing aid components. And rechargeable batteries! No more carrying batteries around in case one goes dead.
Change is inevitable. Some changes we dread, some we look forward to. Changes in hearing aids are always something to look forward to. And that is one of the reasons why I love being an Audiologist.
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