The technology in hearing aids of 2020

Not only have hearing aids become more discreet, they have also incorporated advanced features that go way beyond helping us hear better.

The technology in hearing aids of 2020

by Dr. Kevin Ivory

In recent years, hearing aids have improved considerably, and are being constantly reimagined to fit more easily into our modern lives. Not only have they become more discreet, but they have also incorporated features that go way beyond helping us hear better.

Here are some of the most exciting hearing aid technologies that are available to you in 2020.

Direct Bluetooth connectivity: Connect more easily

Bluetooth has been a part of the hearing aid world for some time, but the feature has previously only been possible through the use of a streamer. This device acted as a middleman between the Bluetooth device and your hearing aids and was worn around your neck or held in your pocket.

A significant change in the last few years has been direct Bluetooth connectivity. These 'Made for iPhone' and 'Made for any phone' hearing aids allow you to connect your smartphones directly to your hearing aids through Bluetooth, freeing you from having to carry a separate device around.

This convenient form of connectivity certainly resonates with wearers — one of last year's most successful selling hearing aids was the first-ever hearing aid to provide universal direct Bluetooth connectivity: the Phonak Marvel.

Through Bluetooth, you're able to connect your phone to your hearing aids (no matter what the model is) and make phone calls and stream your favorite content without having to remove your hearing aids.

Artificial intelligence: A data-driven approach to hearing

The digital hearing aids that currently dominate the market characterize sound conditions in simple terms such as 'quiet' or 'noisy.' It then uses that knowledge to provide the most appropriate sound settings.

While many people have benefited hugely from this technology, there is still room for improvement. They use what we call a 'prediction-only' approach for signal processing, as a prediction is being made by the computer and not verified by any human as right or wrong.

In contrast, Artificial Intelligence technology goes further and asks whether the current settings are successful in helping the user hear better.

Although AI use in hearing aids is in its infancy, there are already models released that are leveraging this cutting edge technology. For example, the Widex Evoke uses machine learning to learn about the wearer's preferences over time and adapt accordingly. Once you have 'educated' your hearing aids, they automatically change settings to those that work for you.

Moreover, the combination of user feedback and machine learning helps the model to grow and become much smarter over time. The data you provide to the hearing aid is combined with other data from other users globally, eventually helping enhance sound quality for all wearers.

Activity Tracking: Hearing aids become wearables

Ten years ago, did you ever think you would be able to monitor how many calories you eat, or how well you sleep? Those once futuristic-sounding features are now a reality with wearable devices, and now hearing aids are beginning to see these features too.

The Livio AI, introduced by Starkey last year, is possibly the best example of the use of activity tracking in hearing aids. It features the ability to monitor aspects of a wearer's health through sensors and artificial intelligence.

Livio AI hearing aids track the number of steps taken and the wearer's overall movement, as well as how long they have been engaged in conversation and how long they have been wearing hearing aids in one day. The goal is to inspire people to remain involved both physically and socially.

The hearing aid also contains sensors to detect if the user has fallen. If that happens, their emergency contacts are sent a text message. Starkey is keen to expand the capabilities of the Livio AI further, planning to add a heart monitoring feature soon.

Rechargeable: The arrival of all-day power

Rechargeable hearing aid technology is not new, but the real game-changer in recent years has been the advent of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the same type used in modern smartphones. Using this technology, manufacturers can now create rechargeable hearing aid batteries that can last for up to 24 hours on a single charge. They are also able to last much longer, in some cases, through the life of the hearing aid itself.

Remote care: Office visit not required

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is the value of online video technology. From remote working tools to virtual 'happy hours,' the recent health crisis has us finally making use of the technology that has been with us for so long. This year will see audiologists ramp up remote care to their patients.

This approach helps patients communicate from the comfort of their home (or anywhere else!) with their audiologists, removing the need to drive to a hearing practice. Now your audiologist can change your hearing aid settings anytime you need them to and on a schedule that suits you.

Written by
Reviewed by
Dr. Kevin H. Ivory
Audiologist & University Instructor
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Dr. Kevin Ivory, Au.D., CCC-A received his Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then went on to earn his Doctor of Audiology degree from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, one of the top 10 audiology residential programs in the country.

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