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Charles L. Hutto, AuD, FAAA
Hearing Aid Technologies
Chesapeake Hearing Centers

Hearing Aid Technologies

Today we find an increasingly rapid evolution of hearing aid technologies to better help people with hearing loss. Over the past decade or so, these new technologies have been a challenge to explain to the public. People in marketing and advertising have come up with terms to help people understand these advances and to encourage them to purchase new technologies. Unfortunately, the technologies have evolved in a manner that is causing more confusion than understanding.
Much of the current advertising emphasizes the word digital. Unfortunately, we find that this word leads patients away from the real questions they should be asking when determining which hearing aid to invest in.
In 1997, the first truly 100% digital hearing aids appeared on the market. At that time there was great confusion about instruments that were digitally programmable (meaning they were programmed by a digital computer) and instruments that were, themselves, totally digital. A similar confusion exists today. Digitizing the sound signal is a cost-effective way to produce hearing aids, but some digital hearing aids are less sophisticated than older analog instruments!
So, when patients ask how much digital hearing aids cost, we feel they have asked the wrong question. In reality, over 95% of the instruments we dispense in our practice are 100 % digital. However, the term digital hearing aids include several different categories.
We think it is not important to ask whether a hearing aid is digital, but rather, “which digital circuit processes sound in a manner that will best improve my hearing.” The patient can match this answer with his financial means, and, through counseling with an audiologist, determine which instruments are best for him.
Think about the hearing aid. The owner turns it up to hear the soft sounds he has trouble with, but then moderate-to-loud sounds are too loud, so he turns it down. Patients end up keeping the hearing aid low to avoid loud sounds from being too loud, but then they continue to have trouble hearing soft sounds. At the Bell Laboratories, engineers developed a circuit that monitors sound and decides how much to amplify. Sounds remain properly balanced by amplifying soft sounds enough to hear, while applying less amplification as the sounds get louder. The instruments break sounds into two separate channels. One channel is for bass sounds (vowels) and one channel is for treble sounds (consonants). Most patients who purchased this dual channel wide dynamic range technology reported it was significantly better than their traditional hearing aids.
Several research studies support the noise-controlling benefits of directional microphones. It is important to note that these circuits do not eliminate noise, but differentiate between sounds to the rear and sounds to the front. For example, these microphones would be helpful in a restaurant where the conversation at table behind you is interfering with your conversation with the person in front of you, but not at a wedding reception where the sound is coming from everywhere.
As we continue to make progress in hearing aid technologies, it is always important to remember an extremely important fact the vast majority of patients who wear hearing aids have sensorineural (nerve) hearing loss. This means that the sensory nerves for hearing are damaged or gone. While no hearing instrument can bring these sensory nerves back to life, todays audiologists and engineers are trying to provide better and better solutions for processing sound. Please be sure and discuss this information with your audiologist so that you can make an informed decision about your hearing healthcare.

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