Hearing Aids and Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Kevin H. Ivory, Au.D., CCC-AHearing Aid Technology, Hearing Aids

Hearing Aids and Artificial Intelligence
Dr. Kevin H. Ivory, Au.D., CCC-A

It is estimated that 432 million adults and 34 million children of the world’s population suffer from disabling hearing loss. By 2050, the total is estimated to reach over 900 million people or one in every ten.

In the United States, according to standard hearing examinations, one in eight people (13 percent or 30 million) age 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears. For adults 45 to 54, approximately 2 percent have disabling hearing loss. And that rate increases to 8.5 percent for the 55 to 64 age range.

There are four types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, congenital and mixed hearing loss, which includes components of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. Identifying which type is crucial in determining treatment options and preventing further deterioration or damage.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is often associated with older adults who lost their hearing gradually over time. As the ear’s sensory cells and/or nerves are damaged or harmed, hearing loss occurs.
  • Conductive hearing loss, which may be reversible, is a type of impairment that occurs when sound waves cannot penetrate from the outer ear to the inner ear. This is sometimes due to a blockage, infection or trauma in the middle ear.
  • Congenital hearing loss persists from birth and is typically caused either by genetic factors, pregnancy issues, or during the birthing process. A loss of functionality in the hearing organs is a hallmark of congenital hearing loss and sometimes is not apparent until later in life.
  • Mixed hearing loss, as the name suggests, occurs when a person has more than one type of hearing loss. It could be age-related deterioration and a blockage.

The challenges of living with hearing loss are profound and wide-ranging and can affect both personal and work life. Many people experience a drop in self-esteem and confidence due to their impaired ability to simply communicate. This can lead to fewer educational and job opportunities, social withdrawal, and emotional problems.

Being hearing impaired as a child can be an even greater struggle as it piles onto the usual challenges of growing up and navigating how to make friends, discovering who you are, and performing well in school.

As technology has revolutionized our world, one might wonder where is the advancement for the hearing impaired? At present, modern hearing aids are the best option for most, but they are designed to amplifying speech while suppressing certain types of background noise, such as traffic. But they struggle to boost the volume of an individual voice over others.

In crowded places, such as parties, hearing aids tend to amplify all speakers at once. This severely hinders a wearer’s ability to converse effectively, essentially isolating them from the people around them.

Technology Provides Hope

It seems the same technologies underpinning tech companies, such as Bluetooth wearable, geo-enabled smartphone applications, and artificial intelligence (AI), are now making their foray into hearing aids.

Not only do these new AI-powered hearing aids deliver the best hearing experience on the market, but they can also multi-task as a fitness tracker, wellness coach, mental health tracker, and foreign language translator.

No longer will hearing aids be stigmatized as a last-resort medical device. But rather, due to the AI technology, they are transiting into a powerful wearable for the tech-savvy crowd, mod crowd.

This new AI hearing aid technology is highly sophisticated and is not just an improvement on previous know-how. Where the previous approach only relied on external sound-amplifiers, like microphones, the new technology also monitors the listener’s own brain waves.

Since we previously discovered that when two people are talking, the brain waves of the speaker begin to resemble the brain waves of the listener, scientists were able to create a system that first separated out the voices of individual speakers in a group, and then compares the voices of each speaker to the brain waves of the person listening. The speaker whose voice pattern most closely matches the listener’s brain waves is then amplified over the rest. After rigorous testing and refinement, the end result of the algorithm’s effectiveness is that it can recognize and decode a voice—any voice—right off the bat. The merging of AI and hearing aids present some amazing possibilities for the millions that live with hearing impairment around the world.