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Hearing Technology

Advances in Assisted-Hearing Technology Are Changing Lives Daily

Many will be surprised to learn that there is a large international community of people who choose to accept their deafness and share a culture that eschews any form of assisted-hearing technology in favour of lip-reading, sign language, and a combination of techniques known as Total Communication. While many others choose simply to cope with their auditory difficulties unaided, the demand for electronic aids continues to grow. This has prompted a need for continuous research and development by manufacturers in an ongoing quest to meet the changing needs of the hard of hearing in an evolving society.

The cartoon images of old men in wheelchairs armed with ear trumpets and yelling at one another are now a relic of a bygone age. Imagine trying to conduct a cellphone conversation with the aid of an ear trumpet. Fortunately, this rather crude form of assisted-hearing technology has long been replaced and for well over a century, simple acoustic devices have been replaced by equipment that utilises electrical amplification.

Although a distinct advance on anything used previously, early amplification devices relied on the use of vacuum tubes similar to those used in radios up until the transition to transistors in the ‘50s. These bulky devices were not readily portable and although the eventual switch to transistors allowed for more compact aid, this did little to improve the poor sound quality or eliminate interference.

With the advent of the personal computer came the dawn of digital electronics. Not surprisingly, the manufacturers of assisted-hearing devices were quick to recognise the value of this new technology. It is, however, highly unlikely that, apart from a few gifted visionaries, anyone would have believed that, in time, digital electronics would revolutionise so many aspects of our modern lifestyles.

Today, practically everyone owns a communication device small enough to fit in a pocket, yet powerful enough to contact people almost anywhere on the planet. We also use the same devices to send text messages, shop, do our banking, surf the internet for information, listen to music, play games, and even navigate. Cellphones, tablets, and laptops have rendered landlines, typewriters, and pocket calculators obsolete, and in the process, they have also created a world that, but for parallel advances in assisted-hearing technology, might have remained closed to those significantly affected by auditory impairment.

Instead, innovative thinking on the part of industry leaders such as Phonak have provided the means for the hard of hearing to interact wirelessly with all manner of other digital devices and to participate fully in the digital world. There is no longer a need for a landline and a handset with enhanced amplification. Instead, one can now purchase an aid that is able to connect with the signal from a smartphone and enable the user to conduct a hands-free call.

It is also no longer necessary for friends, relatives, and quite possibly, neighbours to suffer the discomfort of an overly loud TV. A similar wireless application of digital hearing technology allows the hard-of-hearing individual to adjust the TV’s sound independently, leaving others to listen in comfort. The same applies to a digital radio, while connecting to an iPod offers a private music channel, and just imagine the joy of a Skype call to a son or daughter overseas, and the chance to talk with a grandchild, perhaps, for the first time.

Cellphones and laptops are ubiquitous features of the working environment and thanks to developments such as these, those affected by the loss of audition are no longer precluded from contributing to and benefiting from this new digital workplace. However, while interconnectivity has been a significant focus of hearing technology, there have also been some equally valuable improvements in performance.

The sound quality in the new models is unsurpassed as the result of major advances in digital speech processing. Modern units are able to discriminate between speech and background noise far more effectively, enabling the former to be isolated. Other features include programs to optimise performance according to the nature of the sounds, such as music, while algorithms support the use of multiple microphones to identify the direction of incoming sounds and to isolate an individual speaker from the others in a crowd.

Hearing technology has undergone a quantum leap since the days of the ear trumpet, and progress continues. Contact us at Phonak to find out about our products.