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

When was the last time you used that old ear trumpet? No? You don’t use one? Because that technology is hundreds of years 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 design, that is. And that old style hearing aid tends to be the one we generally remember and picture. The problem is that a hearing aid developed in the 1950s is just about as out-dated as an ear trumpet. To understand just how much better modern hearing aids are, we have to unleash our imaginations.

The History of Hearing Aids

So that you can better recognize just how advanced hearing aids have become, it’s helpful to have some perspective about where they started out. As far back as the 1500s, it’s possible to come across some form of hearing aid (though, there’s no confirmation that these wooden, ear-shaped artifacts were actually effective).

The first partially effective hearing assistance apparatus was probably the ear trumpet. This device looked like an elongated horn. You would put the narrow end inside your ear so that the wide end pointed out. These, um, devices weren’t really high tech, but they did provide some measurable assistance.

When electricity was introduced, hearing aids experienced a significant revolution. The hearing aid as we now know it was really developed in the 1950s. They were quite rudimentary, using transistors and big, primitive batteries to get the job done. But a hearing aid that could be easily worn and hidden started with these devices. The hearing aids of the 1950s may have appeared similar to modern hearing aids but the technology and capability is worlds apart.

Modern Features of Hearing Aids

Modern hearing aids are a technological masterpieces, to put it plainly. And they’re always improving. Since the later years of the twentieth century, modern hearing aids have been taking advantage of digital technologies in some significant ways. The first, and the most important way, is simple: power. Modern hearing aids can pack significantly more power into a much smaller space than their earlier forerunners.

And with that greater power comes a large number of sophisticated developments:

  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss does not occur across all frequencies and wavelengths uniformly. Perhaps low frequency noise 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 efficient hearing aid.
  • Health monitoring: Modern hearing aids are also able to incorporate sophisticated health monitoring software into their settings. For instance, some hearing aids can detect when you’ve had a fall. Other features can count your steps or give you exercise motivation.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Modern hearing aids can now communicate with all of your Bluetooth devices. You will utilize this function on a daily basis. Older hearing aids, for instance, would have aggravating feedback when you would try to talk on the phone. When you connect to your phone via Bluetooth, the transition is smooth and communicating is effortless. This applies to a wide variety of other scenarios regarding electronic devices. This means simple, feedback free connection to your music, TV, etc.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids are normally constructed out of advanced materials, so they feel more comfortable. While these new materials permit hearing aids to be more comfortable, it also allows them to be more robust. It’s easy to see how hearing aids have advanced on the outside as well as the inside by adding long lasting and rechargeable batteries.
  • Speech recognition: For lots of hearing aid owners, the supreme goal of these devices is to facilitate communication. Some hearing aids, then, have built-in speech recognition software designed to separate and amplify voices mainly–which can be quite useful in a wide variety of situations, from a crowded restaurant to an echo-y board room.

The old style hearing aids no longer exemplify what hearing aids are, just as rotary phones no longer illustrate what long distance communication looks like. Hearing aids have changed a lot. And that’s a good thing–because now they’re even better.

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