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The Smartphone Is Changing the Life of Those with Hearing Disabilities

February 22, 2017

Digital hearing aid technologies have matured – but what impact will they have on the wider world?

Approximately 360 million people globally have a ‘disabling’ degree of hearing loss, which is just over one in 20 of us. 

The World Health Organisation estimates that twice that number – one in 10 people – has some form of hearing impairment, while the UK medical journal Lancet estimates that latter figure to be even higher – 1.3 billion people, nearly one in five. Whichever numbers you go by, it’s a lot of people.

Hearing loss isn’t an inconvenience – it’s a major health condition that can lead to cognitive, physical, social and psychological problems. 

“Untreated hearing loss is positively correlated with social isolation, depression, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease (hypertension, stroke, diabetes) and a host of other factors,” says Dr Dave Fabry, VP of Global Hearing Affairs at Starkey Hearing Technology.

As with so many things in our lives, the smartphone (and other technology) is having a huge impact in this area.

Some smartphone manufacturers are aware of the ability of a hadnset to become an ‘assistive listening device (ALD)’ - for example, Apple has integration with advanced Hearing Aids as standard, including hearing aid management. 

It also has a Listen Live function, which allows users to use their iPhone as a microphone feeding direct to their hearing aid.

Hearing Aids Today

Jesal Vishnuram is a Technology Officer at the Action on Hearing Loss charity.

“Current ALDs...aim to improve the signal to noise ratio so people with hearing loss better manage in noisy situations and where hearing aids can be limited,” she says.

This is where the smartphone is perfectly placed to help out: for instance, Starkey Hearing Technology’s Halo2 is an MFI (Made For iOS) device that can stream any audio directly from any iOS device, amplifying and balancing it where necessary.

For tinnitus sufferers, it also includes audio masking to minimize the ringing in their ears. It’s an example of how much modern hearing aids have changed from a few years ago, as Starkey’s Dr Fabry explains.

“[Hearing aids] have evolved from the bulky, beige devices that were worn decades ago. Virtually all hearing aids sold in the U.S. [now] use sophisticated digital technology to process sound with great precision to assist those with hearing loss.

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