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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 hundreds of years old. Okay, I suppose that makes sense. Ear trumpets are a bit… archaic.

The modern(ish) hearing aid, as it happens, was developed in the 1950s–the basic design, that is. And for some reason, that’s the hearing aid which has become identified in our collective consciousness. But visualizing a hearing aid like this isn’t accurate because those old hearing aids are antiquated technology. We need to really advance our thinking if we want to understand how much better modern hearing aids are.

The History of Hearing Aids

To be able to better understand just how advanced hearing aids have become, it’s helpful to have some context about where they started out. As far back as the 1500s, you can come across some type of hearing aid (whether any of them ever really helped you hear better is probably unlikely).

The “ear trumpet” was perhaps the first partially effective hearing assistance approach. This device looked like an elongated trumpet. The wide end faced the world and the narrow end was oriented inside your ear. These, er, devices were not exactly high tech, but they did provide some measurable help.

The real innovation came when someone invited electricity to the party. The hearing aid that we are familiar with was really created in the 1950s. They were fairly rudimentary, using transistors and large, primitive batteries to get the job done. But these gadgets signify the birth of a hearing aid that could be easily worn and concealed. Of course, modern hearing aids might share the same shape and function as those early 1950s models–but their performance goes light years beyond what was possible 70 years ago.

Modern Features of Hearing Aids

Simply put, modern hearing aids are technological masterpieces. And they continue getting better. Since the later years of the twentieth century, modern hearing aids have been taking advantage of digital technologies in several powerful ways. The first, and the most important way, is simple: power. Earlier models contained batteries that had less power in a bigger space than their current counterparts.

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

  • Construction: Modern hearing aids feel more comfortable because they are constructed from high tech materials. These new materials enable hearing aids to be lighter and more heavy-duty at the same time. It’s easy to see how hearing aids have improved on the outside as well as the inside by adding long lasting and rechargeable batteries.
  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss normally manifests as loss of specific frequencies and wavelengths of sound. Maybe you have a more difficult time hearing high-frequency sounds (or vice versa). Contemporary hearing aids are much more effective because they can amplify only the frequencies you have a hard time hearing.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Your hearing aids can now connect to other devices via wireless Bluetooth technology. This can be extremely helpful on a daily basis. As an example, hearing aids in the past had a tough time with telephone calls because users would hear considerable (and sometimes uncomfortable) feedback. When you connect to your cellphone using Bluetooth, the transition is simple and communication is easy. This is true for a wide variety of other scenarios regarding electronic devices. Because there isn’t any interference or feedback, it’s easier to watch TV, listen to music–you name it.
  • Health monitoring: Contemporary hearing aids are also able to incorporate sophisticated health tracking software into their settings. For example, some hearing aids can recognize whether you’ve fallen. There are others that can inform you about your fitness goals like how many steps that you’ve taken.
  • Speech recognition: For many hearing aid owners, the biggest goal of these devices is to enable communication. Many hearing aids, then, have built-in speech recognition software created to separate and amplify voices mainly–which can be very useful in a wide variety of scenarios, from a packed restaurant to an echo-y meeting room.

The older style hearing aids no longer represent what hearing aids are, just as rotary phones no longer capture what long distance communication looks like. Hearing aids aren’t what they once were. And we should be excited because they’re substantially better than they used to be.

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