Stop shouting at grandpa. The smart hearing aid’s here
With lifespans getting longer, many more people have to cope with hearing loss. But thanks to high-tech hearing aids that are cleaner, sleeker and cooler, the elderly don’t have to suffer in silence
Soon after K prasad turned 70, his family noticed that he wouldn’t respond when someone called or that he missed large parts of conversations. The doctor diagnosed mind hearing loss and suggested an aid, but the device turned out to be so clunky, noisy – “I’d rather not hear at all than have that whistling in my ear” – and hard to use, that it spent more time on the shelf than in his ear. And his family got used to shouting at him.
Last year though, a doctor found him a discreet device that sits neatly in his ear, and he’s adapted to it well. New models of hearing aids are nothing like the analogue equipment our grandparents might have worn. They have superior sound quality and are often as small as a fingernail. “Earlier, most hearing aids were large and visible. The new once fit in the inner canal and are almost invisible,” says Dr J.M. has an ENT expert in Delhi. This is why people are now less hesitant about getting assistive devices, he aids.
As lifespans get longer, people have to deal with age-related ailments such as hearing loss, which aren’t life-threatening but do cut into the quality of life. But there is no need to suffer in silence. Dr Shalabh Sharma of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi explains that hearing aids work well for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. “For profound hearing loss, cochlear implants are needed,” he says.
In addition to advanced age (people generally start hearing less by the time they turn 65), listening to loud music earphones is another reason for the increase in incidence of hearing problems.
Mumbai-based audiologist Devangi Dalal says digital aids are better because they can be customized to each user’s requirement. “There aids allow people to hear soft speech louder and ambient sounds softer. Effective noise comparison is key to a good hearing aid,” she adds.
Digital aids come with mobile apps that help users get a better listening experience. You can talk on phone and watch your favorite programmes on TV by connecting your aids to it via an app. Even in a conference, a hearing impaired person sitting in the back row can hear clearly. Certain aids come with a mic, which when worn by the speaker can amplify sound without disturbing others.
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The same technology enables children with hearing impairment to attend a regular school. They can hear the teacher clearly and, therefore, don’t need to attend a special school.
The latest breakthrough in hearing aid technology is the use of artificial intelligence. Using AI, aids can remember and some store different settings of sounds in different situations, and automatically switch to that settings on sensing those frequencies.
For instance, explains Paritosh Arora, CEO, Widex India, you go to a movie theater and change the sound setting on your mobile app. Once you’re out, the hearing aid that the automatically calls switches back to outdoor settings. “In the next six months we are launching battery-free aids that will have portable chargers. You charge them for 10 seconds and they are good to use for 24 hours,” says Arora adding that Widex sells six to seven lakh hearing aids in India every year. Their prices start at Rs 15,500 and go up to 3 lakh and more.
There are more innovations on the cards. Devinder Dadwal, marketing head GN hearing India Pvt Ltd, which sells hearing aids under the brand name Resound, says the company has recently introduced resound Linx Quattro, an aid which has a wider frequency range. “Users can hear sounds battery and their source. For example, if you are out for a morning run and there’s a truck honking from behind, these aids will help to figure out how far the truck is and the direction of its sound. It also allows health care professionals to remotely adjust or tune the user does not have to visit the clinic or hospital,” says Dadwal. He adds that resound sells about 50,000 aids each year in India.