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.
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?