Hearing aid technology has come a long way since the ear horns used centuries ago. Today’s hearing aids are smart, digital devices that transform the way people with hearing loss connect with the rest of the world. The evolution was made possible by the contributions of many audiologists, engineers, and scientists committed to improving the way people hear. Following are several individuals who have played a key role in the development of hearing aid technology.
Alexander Graham Bell
Though best known for inventing the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell spent his life conducting research on hearing and speech, and experimenting with hearing devices. Inspired by his mother and wife, both of whom were deaf, Bell sought to create new ways to communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing. His experiments eventually led to the invention of the telephone, and this transferring of speech set the foundation for the development of the modern hearing aid.
Georg von Bekesy
A Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist, Georg von Bekesy studied the mechanics of human hearing, particularly how sound is communicated via the cochlea. He observed that the basilar membrane of the cochlea experiences waves when stimulated by sound, and that different sound frequencies caused these waves to occur at different places. Known as the “traveling-wave theory,” Bekesy’s research and understanding of how the cochlea transfers sound, and his innovative models of the cochlea, have become useful tools in the study of audiology.
Known as the “mother of pediatric audiology,” Marion Downs was a pioneer in testing and treating hearing loss in infants. Not only did she develop an observational hearing test for newborns, but she also started the practice of fitting hearing aids on infants as young as six months (rather than two- or three-year-olds), and advocated the benefits of early intervention for children with hearing loss. Due to her efforts, 95 percent of all babies born in the U.S. are now screened for hearing loss.
A prolific figure in audiology, Gus Mueller has worn many hats throughout his still ongoing career. He has served as an audiologist (including 20 years with U.S. Army medical centers), a researcher, a consultant for hearing aid manufacturers, and an author of many articles and books about hearing aids and fitting methods. He currently serves as Professor of Audiology at Vanderbilt University and as senior contributing editor for AudiologyOnline. He is also a founder of the American Academy of Audiology.
Harvey Dillon has made major contributions to audiology across the clinical, academic, research, and professional settings. For instance, he developed innovative testing and evaluation methods for hearing aids, rehabilitation strategies, and other methods to improve hearing health. He has also published more than 200 scientific articles and wrote the textbook, Hearing Aids, which has become the standard for students, educators, clinicians, and researchers in the audiology field.