Society says it’s hip to wear Bluetooth headsets, wireless earbuds and other in-ear devices connected to smartphones and personal music players. Hearing aids, however, don’t usually reach the same coolness quotient. That might change, according to a recent article in The San Francisco Chronicle, which suggests the increasing popularity of stylish wearable technology might erase current stigmas associated with wearing hearing aids. The article opens by stating: “Hearing aids have long borne the stigma of being bulky, uncool reminders of mortality.” The piece then goes on to cover fashionable and technological correlations between wireless headphone and hearing aid advancements.
Hearing aid manufacturers continue to make major strides toward creating smaller and trendier hearing assistive devices. Starkey Hearing Technologies now offers a hearing aid that also serves as a Bluetooth headset to connect directly with smartphones. The company is also working on conquering the common issue of a making a device that can amplify just the voice of the person talking when the wearer is in a crowded room. In addition, a young company—called EarLens—invented a hearing aid system using laser light pulses to transmit sound directly to the eardrum. A small lens—similar to a contact lens, according to the company—sits inside the ear and converts the light into sound. One pair sells for $12,000.
The article lists other advances in hearing assistive technology, such as an app called Ava. The app translates speech into text within seconds, using the microphone on the user’s phone. For it to work in group conversations, family meals or work meetings, everyone speaking must download the app on their phone. To translate a conversation with one other person, however, the user needs only to hold their phone within range of the speaker’s voice. The app is free for up to five hours per month of use.
Progress toward repairing hearing loss using stem cells, gene treatments and other biological approaches is also briefly discussed. However, people with hearing loss shouldn’t wait for these solutions, warns the article, citing the connection between hearing loss and dementia.
Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for The ASHA Leader. firstname.lastname@example.org.