Woman wearing hearing aids climbing hill with family and laughing at a joke.

When was the last time you used that old ear trumpet? No? You don’t have one? Because that technology is hundreds of years old. Okay, I suppose that seems logical. Ear trumpets are a bit… antiquated.

The modern(ish) hearing aid, it turns out, was engineered during the 1950s–the basic design, that is. And for some reason, that’s the hearing aid which has become established in our collective consciousness. But visualizing a hearing aid like this isn’t accurate because those old hearing aids are antiquated technology. We need to really advance our thinking if we want to recognize how much more advanced modern hearing aids are.

The History of Hearing Aids

It’s useful to have some context about where hearing aids started to be able to better understand how advanced they have become. If we follow the history back far enough, you can likely find some type of hearing assistance device as far back as the 1500s (though, there’s no confirmation that these wooden, ear-shaped artifacts were actually effective).

The “ear trumpet” was most likely the first marginally useful hearing assistance apparatus. This construct was shaped like, well, a long trumpet. You would put the narrow end into your ear so that the wide end faced out. Today, you wouldn’t think of this device as high tech, but back then they actually give some help.

The real revolution came once someone invited electricity to the party. The hearing aid as we now know it was essentially created in the 1950s. They were fairly basic, using transistors and big, primitive batteries to get the job done. But a hearing aid that could be easily worn and hidden started with these devices. Of course, modern hearing aids might share the same form and function as those early 1950s designs–but their performance goes far beyond what was conceivable 70 years ago.

Hearing Aid’s Modern Features

Simply put, modern hearing aids are technological wonders. And they’re constantly developing. Since the later years of the twentieth century, modern hearing aids have been taking advantage of digital technologies in a few significant ways. Power is the first and most important way. Modern hearing aids can store substantially more power into a much smaller space than their earlier forerunners.

And a long list of innovative advances come with greater power:

  • Bluetooth connectivity: Your hearing aids can now connect to other devices using wireless Bluetooth technology. This can be amazingly useful on a daily basis. Older hearing aids, for example, would have aggravating feedback when you would try to talk on the phone. When you connect to your cellphone via Bluetooth, the transition is simple and communication is effortless. You will also utilize Bluetooth functions to participate in a variety of other electronic activities. This means simple, feedback free connection to your TV, music, etc.
  • Speech recognition: The ultimate objective, for most hearing aid owners, is to assist in communication. Some hearing aids, then, have built-in speech recognition software developed to isolate and amplify voices primarily–which can be pretty useful in a wide range of situations, from a crowded restaurant to an echo-y board room.
  • Health monitoring: Modern hearing aids are also capable of incorporating advanced health tracking software into their settings. For instance, some hearing aids can recognize whether you’ve fallen. Other functions can count your steps or give you exercise encouragement.
  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss normally occurs as loss of certain frequencies and wavelengths of sound. Perhaps you have a harder time hearing high-frequency sounds (or vice versa). Modern hearing aids are much more efficient because they will boost only the frequencies you have a difficult time hearing.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids feel more comfortable because they are made of high tech materials. These new materials allow hearing aids to be lighter and more robust simultaneously. And with the addition of long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but also the outside–of hearing aids have advanced over the years.

The old style hearing aids no longer represent what hearing aids are, in the same way as rotary phones no longer illustrate what long distance communication looks like. Hearing aids have changed a lot. And that’s a good thing–because now they’re even better.

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