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, it turns out, was developed in the 1950s–the basic shape, that is. And somehow, that’s the hearing aid which has become identified in our collective consciousness. The problem is that a hearing aid made in the 1950s is just about as antiquated as a hearing trumpet. To understand just how much better modern hearing aids are, we have to unleash our imaginations.

The History of Hearing Aids

To be able to better comprehend just how advanced hearing aids have become, it’s useful to have some perspective about where they started out. As far back as the 1500s, you can come across some form of hearing aid (though, there’s no confirmation that these wooden, ear-shaped items were actually effective).

The “ear trumpet” was perhaps the first marginally effective hearing assistance apparatus. This device was shaped like, well, a long horn. You would place the small end inside your ear so that the wide end pointed out. Today, you wouldn’t think of this device as high tech, but back then they actually provided some assistance.

When electricity was introduced, hearing aids went through a major revolution. In the 1950s the hearing aid that we are all familiar with was created. In order to work properly, they used large old fashioned style batteries and transistors in a rather rudimentary design. But a hearing aid that could be conveniently worn and hidden started with these devices. Admittedly, modern hearing aids might share the same shape and function as those early 1950s designs–but their functionality goes far beyond what was conceivable 7 decades ago.

Modern Features of Hearing Aids

Bottom line, modern hearing aids are technological masterpieces. And they continue getting better. Since the later years of the twentieth century, modern hearing aids have been utilizing digital technologies in a number of profound ways. Power is the first and most important way. Modern hearing aids can store considerably more power into a much smaller space than their earlier predecessors.

And a long list of innovative advances come with increased power:

  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss does not 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 are unable to hear very well, resulting in a much more effective hearing aid.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Contemporary hearing aids are now able to communicate with all of your Bluetooth devices. You will utilize this feature on a daily basis. For instance, hearing aids in the past had a difficult time dealing with telephone calls because users would experience significant (and sometimes unpleasant) feedback. With modern hearing aids, you can just connect to your cellphone via Bluetooth connectivity and never miss a call. This is true for a wide range of other scenarios regarding electronic devices. Because there isn’t any interference or feedback, it’s easier to watch TV, listen to music–you name it.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids are usually constructed out of advanced materials, so they feel more comfortable. These new materials enable hearing aids to be lighter and more robust simultaneously. And with the addition of long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but also the outside–of hearing aids have improved over the years.
  • Speech recognition: The biggest goal, for many hearing aid users, is to assist in communication. Many hearing aids, then, have built-in speech recognition software designed to isolate and boost voices primarily–which can be pretty handy in a wide range of situations, from a packed restaurant to an echo-y board room.
  • Health monitoring: Advanced Health tracking software is also incorporated into modern hearing aid options. For instance, some hearing aids can recognize whether you’ve had a fall. Other functions can count your steps or give you exercise motivation.

Just as rotary phones no longer exemplify long-distance communication, the hearing aids of old no longer capture what these devices are. Hearing aids aren’t what they used to be. And we should be excited because they’re substantially better than they were.

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