Doubling Hearing Aid Functionality
I foresee a friendlier future for us 31 million Americans with hearing loss. It's no news that cochlear implants, which were unavailable to my late-deafened mother, should spare me her fate. But few people are aware that many more of us could benefit by doubling the functionality of our hearing aids.
We can dream of a future where hearing aids serve not only as sophisticated microphone amplifiers, but also as wireless loudspeakers that deliver clear, customized sound. In theatres, auditoriums, worship centers, airport lounges, drive-up order stations, and home TV rooms, sound signals will be transmitted via in-the-ear loudspeakers, much like wi-fi transmissions to laptops.
Good news! That future has arrived in the UK and much of Scandinavia, and now here in more than one hundred west Michigan facilities, and it is coming to several other American cities. When people experience public address or TV sound via "hearing aid compatible assistive listening" (with their flick of a hearing aid switch) they typically respond with amazed joy. What's more, they report increased satisfaction with their hearing aids.
It's a challenge to persuade a nation to exchange its current hearing assistive technology (which requires locating, checking out, and wearing conspicuous headsets) for a technology that many more people would actually use. But the results of our west Michigan experiment, and another in 1000 California homes, supports my optimism. Doubling hearing aid functionality will greatly increase hearing aid acceptance and use.
With on-the-horizon technology, we can also foresee music buffs with wireless ear bud loudspeakers. When that day comes, having something in one's ear will become as mundane as glasses for the eyes, and millions of people with hearing loss will be enjoying fuller and more connected lives.