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

Have you used your ear trumpet lately? No? You don’t have 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 introduced during the 1950s–the basic shape, that is. And somehow, that’s the hearing aid which has become established in our collective consciousness. But thinking of a hearing aid in this way isn’t realistic because those old hearing aids are antiquated technology. To understand just how much better modern hearing aids are, we have to unleash our imaginations.

Hearing Aids, Then And Now

In order to better recognize just how advanced hearing aids have become, it’s useful to have some perspective about where they started. As far back as the 1500s, it’s possible to find some type of hearing aid (though, there’s no evidence that these wooden, ear-shaped items were actually effective).

The first moderately effective hearing assistance device was probably the ear trumpet. This construct was shaped like, well, a long horn. The wide end faced the world and the narrow end was put into your ear. These, um, devices weren’t really high tech, but they did offer some measurable assistance.

When electricity was introduced, hearing aids experienced a real revolution. In the 1950s the hearing aid that we are all familiar with was created. They were fairly basic, relying on transistors and large, primitive batteries to get the job done. But a hearing aid that could be easily worn and hidden began with these devices. The hearing aids of the 1950s may have looked comparable to modern hearing aids but the technology and capability is worlds apart.

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 utilizing digital technologies in several significant ways. Power is the first and most crucial way. Modern hearing aids can pack significantly more power into a much smaller area than their earlier predecessors.

And with that improved power comes a large number of innovative advances:

  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss doesn’t manifest across all wavelengths and frequencies uniformly. Perhaps low frequency sound is hard to hear (or vice versa). Modern hearing aids can be programmed to boost only those sounds that you are unable to hear so well, resulting in a much more effective hearing aid.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids are typically constructed out of high tech materials, so they feel more comfortable. While these new materials enable hearing aids to be more comfortable, it also enables them to be more robust. And by adding long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but also the outside–of hearing aids have advanced over the years.
  • Speech recognition: The ultimate objective, for most hearing aid users, is to enable communication. Separating and amplifying voices, then, is a principal function of the software of many hearing aids–which can be pretty helpful in a wide range of scenarios, from a crowded restaurant to an echo-y board room.
  • Health monitoring: State-of-the-art Health monitoring software is also included in modern hearing aid options. if you fall, for example, some hearing aids can detect that. Other features can count your steps or give you exercise support.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Your hearing aids can now communicate with other devices using wireless Bluetooth technology. You will use this feature every day. For example, hearing aids in the past had a hard time dealing with telephone calls because users would hear substantial (and sometimes uncomfortable) 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 situations involving electronic devices. This means simple, feedback free connection to your music, TV, etc.

Just like rotary phones no longer represent long-distance communication, the hearing aids of old no longer represent what these devices are. Hearing aids have changed a lot. And we should be excited because they’re much better than they used to be.

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