Hearing loss is a grave matter when it happens to you or a loved one.
Although one of the classic symbols of older age is the hearing aid, age is not the only cause for diminished aural abilities. Working over long periods of time around noisy machinery (like jackhammers) can take its toll. Some illnesses may also lead to hearing loss.
The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) confirms that about one out of every five Americans “report some degree of hearing loss.” This means that partial or complete deafness is rather common in the United States.
By age 65, 33 percent of the population has some type of hearing loss. In other words, the majority (67%) of people with hearing loss are younger than age 65.
Out of 1000 births, 2-3 babies have congenital hearing loss, and HLAA adds that “Almost 15% of school-age children (ages 6-19) have some degree of hearing loss.”
The HLAA also correlates increased hearing impairment to reduced wages (compensation). Deaf folks get paid less money.
Do you know someone who is hard of hearing? If so, does this person become upset when you repeat what you said at a louder volume, exaggerating your mouth movements – kind of like talking to a small child? This is because many people who find themselves becoming deaf have a difficult time “owning” this fact. They believe their condition is rare, and it is embarrassing to admit there is a problem.
Fortunately, there is help from the hearing aid industry. Long gone are the hand-held ear trumpets of yore. Can you imagine having to hold a funnel designed to collect and direct sound waves inside your ear for hours at a time? Ugh.
No wonder science and technology marched on, into the 21st century, and invented electronic hearing aids that fit into the ears – hands-free!
Healthy Hearing identifies the key components of a modern hearing aid:
A microphone to pick up sound
A computer chip to amplify and process sound
A speaker that sends the signal from the chip to the ear
A power source (battery)
Hearing aids come in many styles and several types. Consult with an audiologist (hearing doctor) to find the best, most suitable solution.
That said, there are three basic styles: ITE (in the ear), BTE (behind the ear) and Canal – which fits inside the ear canal:
Hearing aids can be wired or wireless. Wireless hearing aids equipped with Bluetooth can connect to other Bluetooth-capable devices, like a smartphone or computer.
Like other electronic devices, hearing aids can deliver sound waves in either analog or digital format. The difference between them is that analog sound is smooth and has no transitions (think of turning a round knob: as you twist, the sound goes up or down without skipping any tones) whereas digital sound has increments that step up or down, skipping some intermediate tones along the way.
But hearing aid technology never sleeps, and some new advances on the horizon are quite exciting.
Engineers at Columbia University are among others working on developing cognitive hearing aids. This cutting-edge technology “constantly monitors the brain activity of the subject to determine whether the subject is conversing with a specific speaker in the environment.”
A single audio channel passes the listener’s own neural signals with those from multiple speakers and automatically isolates each individual speaker, identifies the speaker, and then “amplifies the attended speaker’s voice to assist the listener – all in under 10 seconds.”
Other researchers are exploring an unexpectedly natural solution to the problem of separating one voice from a crowd. Dr. Ron Miles and Jian Zhou of Binghamton University are studying spider silk – which spiders spin into strong, durable and light-weight webs – as a workaround to needing sound separation in the first place:
“The fiber used in the study’s experimental microphone detects the directionally-dependent signal itself, eliminating microphone separation requirements and results in a hearing experience that sounds good at all frequencies, from three Hz all the way up to 50 kilohertz (kHz).”
Dr. Miles added, “The ability to get rid of unwanted sound all the way across the audible band and to detect that different signal with high fidelity across the audible band seems like it will provide an advantage.”
With medical advances marching forward at break-neck speed, keep your ears open for other creative solutions to hearing loss – so to speak.