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Hearing Aids Go High Tech

Here’s the thing about hearing aids: They amplify sound. So if you’re having a conversation with someone, you hear their words louder than the volume at which they’re actually speaking. If they mumble or have an odd accent, that sound won’t be any clearer — just louder. If there’s a lot of background noise, that sound will pump up louder as well. In short, if you want to hear what someone is saying, traditional hearing aids work best in a quiet environment.

However, today’s hearing aids have improved significantly, using microchips, computerization and digitized sound processing (DSP) to convert sound waves into digital signals. These signals are then interpreted by a computer chip to differentiate between noise and speech. Many enable users to control acoustic feedback, reduce extraneous noises and save various settings for different environments.

In 2013, Apple introduced the Made for iPhone hearing aid program in concert with its launch of iOS 7. The program offers various options designed to enable a hearing-impaired person through the use of an iOS device to make phone calls, converse on FaceTime, listen to music and watch movies via direct streaming directly to his ears. The user can adjust the volume and various settings with his iPhone. Another Made for iPhone feature is Live Listen, which enables the iPhone to work as a remote microphone from across the room or wherever it is placed. Similar functions are currently in the works for Android phones as well.

One of today’s more high-tech advances is the cochlear implant. This is an electrical device implanted into the ear that directly stimulates the auditory nerve. The device requires an external microphone, speech processor and a transmitter, all of which are worn externally behind the ear or in a chest pocket. A receiver implanted under the skin receives the transmitted sounds and helps the person perceive sound rather than restore hearing. Cochlear implants are generally recommended for patients with severe hearing loss.

Other types of devices are designed to help hearing impairment with or without a hearing aid. These include television listening devices, personal frequency modulation (FM) systems, conference microphones and telephone amplifiers.