What If You Could Construct Your Ideal Hearing Aid?

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a hearing aid company as part of a focus group on a new product. It was an interesting experience, and a hopeful one, since at least the company was asking some of the users of the product what they might like to see. Much of the questioning was about existing features and about how we did or did not use mobile phone apps to control our hearing aids.

The most interesting question to me was, “If you could construct your ideal hearing aid, what features would you have.” Nobody had ever asked me that before. Well, boy did I have a list for them.

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Most hearing aids are programmable to some degree, usually by frequency, but in my ideal hearing aid you could program by “sound” rather than frequency. You would also have the ability to block certain sounds and to emphasize sounds coming from a certain direction. All of this would be accomplished through a wand or smartphone app.

My favorite ideas for an ideal hearing aid are below. Please share your ideas in the comments.

1.  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.

2.  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.

3.  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?

4.  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.

5.  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.

6. A reset button: Sometimes I am adjusting programs and volumes and who knows what else, and I just want to get back to the original settings. A reset button would be a quick way to go back to the beginning if need be.

Readers, what is on your wish list for hearing aid features?

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28 thoughts on “What If You Could Construct Your Ideal Hearing Aid?

  1. Ideas one and two would be amazing, what were the organizer’s thoughts on your suggestions? Did they think its feasible?

  2. 1. where you list #2 – yes! Identify sounds to avoid – add clinking silverware and dishes in a restaurant to that one. more adequately blocking out background restaurant chatter would be good too. A lot of these hearing aids have a setting for that, but I have found it to be inadequate – it is still very difficult to have a conversation with someone across the table from you with noise bouncing off the ceilings and walls of most establishments. This would also mean enhancing the direction of the mics.

    2. Some serious research and development to address people with Reverse Slope Hearing Loss (RSHL). All R&D seems to go into addressing people with high end loss, which is where the majority is and the big bucks are. There is not really anything that serves people who have lost their low end of hearing but still have some intact high ends in a reverse slope loss. It is like an uncharted frontier out there for RSHL people and their audiologists, who have to keep playing with and tweaking settings that are less than ideal.

    3. Continue to make smaller but more powerful completely- in-the-canal hearing aids that are programmable.
    Being able to use your own natural ear to help amplify is a great thing and does make a difference. I think It is much easier to use a phone with a CIC than it is a behind-the-ear model.
    To be able to leave it in comfortably at night so you can somewhat hear night sounds if you wake up is important and it is easier to wear glasses and sunglasses without them clunking against the aid or dislodging like they sometimes do with a BTE, which sometimes gets knocked off or tangled in my hair.

    So mostly, smaller programmable in-the-ear aids that have more of a cushion to them to make them more comfortable, that can utilize your natural ear for amplification but that have more power than the current ones on the market, and that address low end loss.
    Too much to ask? 🙂

  3. Excellent suggestions, particularly the voice recognition and directionality aspects. Brilliant. Hearing is all based on perception in ever fluctuating contexts, of which frequency is an important part, but only a part. Some sort of locating app, for misplaced devices/streamers would be useful. More sweat resistant devices, also. We’re not all silver-haired retirees sitting around in our cardigan sweaters.

  4. Features I’d love to see combined in one hearing aid:

    1. Waterproof/sweatproof: People with hearing aids are active! All manufacturers should produce aids that won’t fry when they get wet from sweat or rain. Believe it or not, you can have hearing loss and still do long distance cycling, kayaking, running, climbing… you name it.

    2. Cut down on wind noise (see #1.)

    3. Reliable streamerless bluetooth

    4. No “bluetooth delay” on separate mics

    5. Proximity-driven seamless handoff to smartphone

  5. Frequently changing teeny batteries is annoying. Remember when you had to take out eye contacts everyday. Now people leave them in for a month at a time I think. Some improvements along those lines would be fantastic.

  6. Most aids can be programmed to have a mute setting – be worth talking to your audiologist about that one #onedownmanytogo

  7. You nailed anything I’d come up with on the head, plus a few I hadn’t thought of!

    I might also add something I’ve been wishing and hoping for ever since Google released its Google Glass product — live, auto-captioning (like a Google-fied CART system, perhaps – not entirely sure about that because I’ve never been fortunate enough to get to use a CART system but I’ve heard about them).

    Live, Auto-Captioning would involve a lot of hardware, possibly. It would include the hearing aids (of course) but also your Android SmartPhone and either Google Glass or something like it. The idea is it would use the mics in your hearing aids to transmit the sound of the words being spoken to Google’s Auto-Captioning (a la YouTube [https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/3038280?hl=en] or Google Hangout Captions [https://hangout-captions.appspot.com/]) service via your wirelessly-connected SmartPhone; and, then the captioned words would be transmitted from your SmartPhone to your Google Glass so you could read live captions of what’s being said as the person you’re looking at it saying them (or, the person giving the speech, lesson, or talk you’re attending).

  8. Power indicator light – because (not surprisingly) I can’t tell if my Hearing Aids have turned on while taking them out for the night!

  9. While being active in sports/outside working – reduce the wind noise to a low percentage and sweat/water proof hearing aids. Also longer battery life or rechargeable batteries.

  10. […] 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 life line 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. You can read that post here. […]

  11. How about rechargeable batteries. Buying, storing, changing.. is messy and costly for everyone.
    Furtermore, changing the tiny batteries may be quite difficult for older people or those who are less agile with age or a some kind of disability.

  12. I really like the suggestion about notifying low battery status. It would be good if you could wear aids at night. I do not hear my house alarm or car alarm if I do not have my aids in. I would also like a way to identify the direction that emergency service vehicles are travelling from. In restaurants, wooden floors make it difficult to hear anything, so finding a way to cut out the floor noise would be good.

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