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 makes sense. Ear trumpets are a bit… archaic.

The basic shape of the modern hearing aid was designed in the 1950s. And somehow, that’s the hearing aid which has become established in our collective consciousness. The trouble is that a hearing aid built in the 1950s is just about as antiquated as an ear trumpet. We need to really advance our thinking if we want to get an accurate picture of how much better modern hearing aids are.

Hearing Aids, Then And Now

In order to better comprehend just how advanced hearing aids have become, it’s helpful to have some context about where they began. If we follow the history back far enough, you can likely find some form of hearing assistance device as far back as the 1500s (whether any of them ever actually helped you improve your hearing is probably unlikely).

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

When electricity was introduced, hearing aids experienced a major innovation. The hearing aid as we now know it was really developed in the 1950s. They were rather basic, using transistors and large, antiquated batteries to get the job done. But these gadgets signify the beginning of a hearing aid that could be easily worn and hidden. Admittedly, modern hearing aids might share the same shape and mission as those early 1950s designs–but their functionality goes light years beyond what was possible 70 years ago.

Modern Capabilities of Hearing Aids

Simply put, modern hearing aids are technological masterpieces. And they’re always improving. In many significant ways, modern hearing aids have been making use of the digital technology of the later part of the twentieth century. The first, and the most essential way, is simple: power. Earlier models had batteries which had less power in a bigger space than their present counterparts.

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

  • Bluetooth connectivity: Contemporary hearing aids can now connect to all of your Bluetooth devices. You will use this feature every day. For instance, hearing aids used to have a tough time dealing with phone calls because users would hear significant (and sometimes unpleasant) feedback. When you connect to your cellphone via Bluetooth, the transition is simple and communication is easy. This applies to a wide range of other situations involving electronic devices. This means quick, feedback free connection to your TV, music, etc.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids are usually made of advanced materials, so they feel more comfortable. These new materials allow hearing aids to be lighter and more heavy-duty at the same time. It’s easy to see how hearing aids have improved on the outside as well as the inside with the addition of long lasting and rechargeable batteries.
  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss normally occurs as loss of specific frequencies and wavelengths of sound. Perhaps you have a harder time hearing high-frequency noises (or vice versa). Contemporary hearing aids are far more efficient because they will boost only the frequencies you have a hard time hearing.
  • Health monitoring: Contemporary hearing aids are also capable of incorporating advanced health monitoring software into their options. For instance, some hearing aids can detect whether you’ve had a fall. There are others that can inform you about your fitness goals like how many steps that you have taken.
  • Speech recognition: For many hearing aid owners, the ultimate goal of these devices is to facilitate communication. Separating and boosting voices, then, is a principal feature of the software of many hearing aids–from a busy restaurant to an echo-y board room, this feature is useful in many situations.

Just as 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 a lot better than they used to be.

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