Since their invention, hearing aids have been an incremental part of the strategies designed to help cope with hearing impairment. Their evolution and the technological developments in this sphere have transformed them into life changing equipment that is both advanced and more recently affordable.
Manufacturers strive to offer the newest and most comprehensive solutions to meet the demand and requirements of different types and levels of hearing impairment. Hearing aids are now available in many models and colours and come with an array of features that are constantly being enhanced and improved.
The basic function of every hearing aid is to amplify sounds. In addition to that, it can also connect to a phone, induction loop or wirelessly to another hearing aid. To understand what a hard of hearing person needs to find in an advanced hearing aid, it is best to look first at how hearing aids work and then review the newest technological features that make them high-tech and superior to their more basic counterparts.
Hearing aids are small electrical devices that run on batteries and are usually encased in a tiny plastic body to protect all the internal parts from damage, dust and moisture. The three main elements of the hearing aid are the microphone (used to pick up sounds and transform them into electrical impulses), the amplifier (used to process the sounds and assign them the correct volume) and the receiver (used to convert the signals back to sounds and send them to the ear). Modern hearing aids use digital technology for sound processing that allows for complexity in the manipulation of signals such as adjusting to different sound environments, focusing on specific frequencies, better coping with background noise, etc.
Advanced hearing aids feature not only amplification capabilities but also additional functions that can fit to a particular lifestyle or personal taste, occupation and preferences. Depending on the brand and class of the hearing aid, the amplification level, feedback suppression, clarity of sound or connectivity to various other devices can vary significantly.
Typical features considered advanced are:
- Reduction of feedback and noise: Some hearing aids can eliminate completely the presence of feedback or external noise and thus improve the quality of sound. The greatest benefit is the reduction of signals due to jaw movement, static noise or signal disturbance from other devices.
- Enhancement of speech: Digital technology allows for sound fragmentation and focusing on speech among all other sounds.
- Directional microphones: These are another addition to the improvement of sound quality and signal-to-noise ratio.
- Memory: Modern hearing aids have the option to store information about various sound environments and switch to them automatically.
- Telecoil: The T-coil is an essential function that connects the hearing aid to telephone electromagnetic signals. This function allows amplification of the sounds coming from the phone and delivers them directly to the ear. The telecoil can also work with induction loops, commonly found in public places such as the theatre or church.
Additional features that some models offer may be wind and echo blocking, sound direction control, programmes for easier transition from one acoustic environment to another, suppression of unexpected abrupt noises (e.g. clattering dishes), etc. More recently, some hearing aids now offer waterproofing, connection to smart phones and wireless connection to the TV and other devices.