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Ask the Audiologist: What are your favorite hearing solutions from 2017?

New technology breakthroughs are always built upon previous innovations. The hearing aid field is no exception. As we look forward to the new hearing solutions that 2018 will bring, let’s first revisit some of the industry’s “greatest hits” of 2017.

Hearing aids that recognize their owner

Hearing aids that can identify music, speech, or noise have been around for a while. But in 2017, hearing aids got even smarter. First-time wearers often report that their own voice sounds unnatural with hearing aids. This is because they are not used to hearing their own voice amplified. Fortunately, new technology allowed hearing aids to recognize and single out the wearer’s own voice, and process it separately from all other sounds in the environment. The result is a natural sounding own voice, which in turn helps wearers adapt to new hearing aids faster and with greater ease.

Hearing aids that detect motion

Our listening needs and behavior change when we’re on the move compared to when we’re stationary. When walking, cycling, or driving, it’s important for us to be more aware of the acoustic environment around us, beyond the speech sounds that are typically of interest when we’re sitting still. The latest hearing aids can tap into the motion sensors in the wearer’s smartphone and better steer sound processing according to their movements.

Hearing aids that fit more comfortably

Typically, we focus on advancements in sound processing. But the best performing hearing aids are useless if they can’t be worn comfortably. That’s why another of my 2017 favorites were the subtle yet effective improvements made in the soft sleeves that cover the receivers in Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) hearing aids. These newer sleeves not only fit more comfortably and securely in a wider variety of ear canals, but also provide a better acoustic seal. This means less squeaky whistling and improved sound quality.

Hearing aids that take care of tinnitus—silently

Sound therapy, which generates a soothing static or undulating noise to minimize the annoyance of tinnitus, has been available in hearing aids for a few years. What was new in 2017 was the introduction of an entirely silent treatment method called Notch Therapy. Without introducing additional sound stimuli, such as those used in sound therapy (e.g., white noise), Notch Therapy works completely in the background to alleviate the effects of tonal tinnitus, the most common type of tinnitus.

Hearing care that goes beyond the office visit

2017 was not just a great year for hearing aids, but for hearing care services too. The advent of telehealth tools like smartphone apps enabled hearing aid wearers to remain in closer contact to their hearing care professionals (HCP) than ever before. The patient can text their HCP via the app with questions, or schedule a virtual appointment during which the HCP can assign hearing activities to promote hearing aid acclimation and even make minor hearing aid adjustments remotely. All these assure the new hearing aid wearer of the HCP’s support beyond the initial office visit and have been proven to increase the likelihood of hearing aid acceptance.

These have been some of my favorite improvements in hearing solutions in 2017. What’s the best thing you like about your hearing aids?