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

Have you utilized your ear trumpet lately? No? You don’t have one? Because that technology is hundreds of years old. Okay, I suppose that seems logical. Ear trumpets are a bit… antiquated.

The modern(ish) hearing aid, as it happens, was introduced in the 1950s–the basic design, that is. And somehow, that’s the hearing aid which has become identified in our collective consciousness. The problem is that a hearing aid built in the 1950s is just about as out-dated as a hearing trumpet. To understand just how much better modern hearing aids are, we have to unshackle our imaginations.

The History of Hearing Aids

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

The first somewhat helpful hearing assistance device was most likely the ear trumpet. This construct was shaped like, well, a long horn. The wide end faced the world and the small end was oriented inside your ear. Nowadays, you wouldn’t think of this device as high tech, but back then they actually provided some assistance.

The real innovation came once someone invited electricity to the party. In the 1950s the hearing aid as we know it was created. In order to work properly, they relied on large old fashioned style batteries and transistors in a fairly rudimentary design. But a hearing aid that could be conveniently worn and hidden began with these devices. Admittedly, modern hearing aids may share the same form and mission as those early 1950s models–but their functionality goes light years beyond what was conceivable 7 decades ago.

Modern Features of Hearing Aids

Put simply, modern hearing aids are technological wonders. And they keep getting better. In a number of profound ways, modern hearing aids have been taking advantage of the digital technology of the later part of the twentieth century. Power is the first and most essential way. Modern hearing aids can pack considerably more power into a much smaller space than their earlier predecessors.

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

  • Bluetooth connectivity: Your hearing aids can now communicate with other devices via wireless Bluetooth technology. You will utilize this feature on a daily basis. For instance, hearing aids used to have a tough time dealing with phone calls because users would hear substantial (and sometimes uncomfortable) feedback. When you connect to your cellphone using Bluetooth, the transition is simple and communicating is easy. This applies to a wide variety of other scenarios involving electronic devices. Because there’s no feedback or interference, it’s easier to watch TV, listen to music–you name it.
  • Health monitoring: Contemporary hearing aids are also capable of incorporating sophisticated health monitoring software into their settings. For instance, some hearing aids can recognize when you’ve had a fall. There are other features that can notify you about your fitness goals such as how many steps that you’ve taken.
  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss doesn’t occur across all frequencies and wavelengths uniformly. Perhaps you have a more difficult time hearing high-frequency noises (or vice versa). Contemporary hearing aids can be programmed to boost only those sounds that you can’t hear so well, resulting in a much more effective hearing aid.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids feel more comfortable because they are constructed from advanced materials. These new materials permit hearing aids to be lighter and more heavy-duty at the same time. And with the addition of long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but the outside–of hearing aids have advanced over the years.
  • Speech recognition: For countless hearing aid users, the supreme goal of these devices is to enable communication. Isolating and amplifying voices, then, is a principal feature of the software of many hearing aids–which can be quite helpful in a wide variety of scenarios, from a packed restaurant to an echo-y board room.

The older style hearing aids no longer represent what hearing aids are, in the same way as rotary phones no longer capture what long distance communication looks like. Hearing aids aren’t what they used to be. And that’s a good thing–because now they’re even better.

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