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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 makes sense. Ear trumpets are a bit… antiquated.

The modern(ish) hearing aid, it turns out, was introduced in the 1950s–the basic shape, that is. And that old model hearing aid tends to be the one we generally remember and envision. But visualizing a hearing aid like this isn’t realistic because those old hearing aids are antiquated technology. To understand just how much better modern hearing aids are, we have to unshackle our imaginations.

The History of Hearing Aids

It’s helpful to have some context about where hearing aids began in order to better understand how sophisticated they have become. If we trace 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 hear better is still up for debate).

The first partially helpful hearing assistance device was probably the ear trumpet. This device was shaped like, well, a long trumpet. You would place the narrow end in your ear so that the wide end pointed out. These, er, devices weren’t exactly high tech, but they did provide some measurable help.

Once electricity was introduced, hearing aids experienced a major innovation. In the 1950s the hearing aid as we know it was created. In order to do their job, they used large old fashioned style batteries and transistors in a quite rudimentary design. But these devices signify the start of a hearing aid that could be easily worn and concealed. Of course, modern hearing aids may share the same form and mission as those early 1950s models–but their performance goes light years beyond what was possible 7 decades ago.

Modern Capabilities of Hearing Aids

Modern hearing aids are a technological masterpieces, to put it bluntly. And they’re constantly developing. In several profound ways, modern hearing aids have been utilizing the digital technology of the later twentieth century. The first, and the most essential way, is simple: power. Earlier versions contained batteries that had less power in a bigger space than their current counterparts.

And a number of sophisticated advances come with increased power:

  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss usually occurs as loss of certain frequencies and wavelengths of sound. Maybe you have a more difficult time hearing high-frequency noises (or vice versa). Modern hearing aids are far more effective because they are able to amplify only the frequencies you have a hard time hearing.
  • Health monitoring: State-of-the-art Health monitoring software is also incorporated into modern hearing aid choices. if you fall, for instance, some hearing aids can recognize that. There are others that can keep you informed about your fitness goals such as how many steps that you’ve taken.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids feel more comfortable because they are constructed from high tech materials. These new materials permit hearing aids to be lighter and more robust simultaneously. It’s easy to see how hearing aids have advanced on the outside as well as the inside with the addition of long lasting and rechargeable batteries.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Modern hearing aids can now communicate with all of your Bluetooth devices. This can be very useful on a daily basis. For instance, hearing aids in the past had a difficult time with telephone calls because users would hear substantial (and sometimes unpleasant) feedback. With contemporary hearing aids, you can simply connect to your cellphone using Bluetooth connectivity and never miss a call. You will also use Bluetooth connectivity to take part in a wide range of other electronic activities. This means simple, feedback free connection to your TV, music, etc.
  • Speech recognition: The biggest goal, for many hearing aid users, is to enhance communication. Isolating and boosting voices, then, is a principal function of the software of many hearing aids–from a busy restaurant to an echo-y board room, this feature comes in handy in many scenarios.

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 we should be excited because they’re a lot better than they were.

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