Woman wearing hearing aids climbing hill with family and laughing at a joke.

Have you utilized your ear trumpet lately? No? You don’t use one? Because that technology is centuries old. Okay, I suppose that seems logical. Ear trumpets are a bit… archaic.

The modern(ish) hearing aid, as it happens, was engineered during the 1950s–the basic design, that is. And that old style hearing aid is generally the one we remember and think of. The trouble is that a hearing aid built in the 1950s is just about as antiquated as an ear trumpet. We need to really expand our thinking if we want to understand how much better modern hearing aids are.

The History of Hearing Aids

It’s helpful to have some perspective about where hearing aids started to be able to better comprehend how advanced they have become. As far back as the 1500s, you can find some form of hearing aid (whether any of them ever actually helped you improve your hearing is probably unlikely).

The “ear trumpet” was perhaps the first partially effective hearing assistance approach. This construct was shaped like, well, a long trumpet. You would put the small end into your ear so that the wide end faced out. These, um, devices weren’t exactly high tech, but they did offer some measurable help.

Once electricity was introduced, hearing aids had a real innovation. In the 1950s the hearing aid as we know it was created. They were fairly basic, relying on transistors and large, primitive batteries to effectively work. But a hearing aid that could be easily worn and hidden started with these devices. Admittedly, modern hearing aids might share the same form and mission as those early 1950s designs–but their performance goes light years beyond what was possible 70 years ago.

Modern Capabilities of Hearing Aids

Modern hearing aids are a technological masterpieces, to put it bluntly. And they’re constantly improving. Since the late twentieth century, modern hearing aids have been benefiting from digital technologies in several profound ways. Power is the first and most important way. Earlier models contained batteries that had less power in a larger space than their present counterparts.

And a number of cutting-edge advances come with greater power:

  • Construction: Modern hearing aids feel more comfortable because they are constructed from high tech materials. While these new materials allow hearing aids to be more comfortable, it also allows them to be more robust. And by adding long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but the outside–of hearing aids have improved over the years.
  • Health monitoring: Contemporary hearing aids are also able to incorporate advanced health tracking software into their options. For example, some hearing aids can detect when you’ve had a fall. There are others that can notify you about your fitness goals like how many steps that you’ve taken.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Modern hearing aids are now able to connect to all of your Bluetooth devices. This can be extremely helpful on a daily basis. For instance, hearing aids used to have a hard time with telephone calls because users would hear substantial (and sometimes unpleasant) feedback. With modern hearing aids, you can just connect to your cellphone via Bluetooth connectivity and never miss a call. This is true for a wide variety of other scenarios involving electronic devices. Because there’s no feedback or interference, it’s easier to watch TV, listen to music–you name it.
  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss commonly manifests as loss of certain wavelengths and frequencies of sound. Perhaps you have a harder time hearing high-frequency noises (or vice versa). Modern hearing aids can be programmed to boost only those sounds that you can’t hear so well, resulting in a much more efficient hearing aid.
  • Speech recognition: The biggest goal, for most hearing aid users, is to enhance communication. Separating and amplifying voices, then, is a principal feature of the software of many hearing aids–from a packed restaurant to an echo-y meeting hall, this feature is useful in many situations.

Just as rotary phones no longer exemplify long-distance communication, the hearing aids of old no longer represent what these devices are. Hearing aids aren’t what they once were. And we should be excited because they’re substantially better than they were.

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