I love thinking about new features for hearing aids. OK — I guess that makes me a little bit weird, but when something is such an important lifeline to communication, it is probably worth thinking about from time to time. A few months ago I wrote a blog post detailing some ideas I had for improving today’s hearing aids. These included:
- Have sound recognition: I’m not sure if that is a real term, but what I mean is that the hearing aid could be taught to identify the specific sounds or voices that are most important to you. For example, you could use a wand or app to record your family members’ voices, and the hearing aid would then know that these were critical sounds for you to hear. Right now most hearing aids are only programmable by frequency. Programming by “sound” could be much more accurate.
- Identify sounds to avoid: Part two of the sound recognition described above would allow you to teach your hearing aid sounds you want to avoid, like the sound of your air conditioner or refrigerator. This could help alleviate the issue of amplification of all sounds rather than just the important ones.
- Have a mute button: Wouldn’t it be nice to turn the sound off every once in a while without having to remove the aids?
- Send low battery alert emails: Even my Fitbit sends me an email, when the battery is running low, so it can’t be that hard. This way we could avoid the need to swap batteries on the fly or during an important meeting.
- Be directional: I would like to be able to adjust the hearing aid’s microphone to highlight sounds coming from a certain direction or area of the room. This would help in meetings and at restaurants. Ideally, this would be controlled through a wand or smartphone app.
Many readers had great suggestions to add to the list, including hearing aids you can wear at night, and hearing aids that you can track with GPS (like Find My iPhone) to protect against loss. One suggestion that particularly resonated with me was the idea of a sport hearing aid. They make sport watches, sport glasses, sport radios, and several cochlear implants can now be worn in the water with an accessory, so why is there not a sport hearing aid?
Perhaps it is the misconception that hearing loss is something that only happens to the old. This is not the case. In fact, according to the Better Hearing Institute, 65% of people with hearing loss are below age 65. This is quite an active group, particularly in today’s health-conscious world, and one that I believe would embrace the idea of a hearing aid that could be worn to the gym, or on the tennis court, or while enjoying water sports. I know I sometimes have trouble with my hearing aids during my hot yoga class when sweat drips into my ears. Before I started wearing Lyric hearing aids (they are water-resistant), I could not wear my hearing aids to class, otherwise they would short out, but without my hearing aids, it was hard to hear what the teacher was saying, making the class almost impossible to enjoy. A catch 22.
My 10-year-old son wears glasses, as do many of his friends, so when he plays sports, he wears his sport glasses. They are made from particularly flexible plastic, come with a strap so that the glasses won’t be knocked loose during play, and have a wider lens than is typical to help with peripheral vision. Now, I realize that hearing aids are much more complicated than glasses given the electronic components, but the same concepts could apply — more rugged / flexible casing, straps to keep the hearing aids in place, and some way to keep water, sweat and dirt out. Features to help with wind noise would also be a plus.
Readers, would you wear a sport hearing aid?