I love my noise canceling headphones. I wear them to the movies, on planes and at concerts. A flick of the switch and extraneous sound recedes. It is heaven. Sometimes I wonder why this feature is not built into hearing aids. The technology obviously exists. Imagine that same flick of a switch at a restaurant or a noisy cocktail party. The background hum would disappear leaving only the voices loud and clear. Seriously, why does this not exist?
I recently met with a leading manufacturer of hearing aids as part of a focus group they were conducting on a new hearing aid app. We spent most of our time working with the app, but the conversation eventually turned to hearing aid features that people would like. Background noise reduction is always a priority for hearing aid wearers. How do you block out the sounds you don’t want so that the sounds you do want are easier to hear?
The perfect example of this is restaurants. Sometimes it is easier to put my hearing aids in sleep mode which will reduce the overwhelming buzz of the background scene. While I won’t hear the voices as loudly as I would like, I can use my lipreading skills to augment what I do hear. The overall experience is more pleasant than struggling to pick out the important sounds from the noise salad.
“Why don’t hearing aids utilize noise canceling technology?” we asked the representative from the hearing aid company, “It already exists in other consumer electronics products.” He did not know, but agreed it was a fair question.
As a hearing aid wearer, I wish that hearing aid companies and consumer electronics manufacturers could work more closely together. The complementary skills and technologies could combine to create innovative and highly responsive products for people with hearing loss.
Perhaps recent moves to establish an over-the-counter (OTC) category of hearing devices for people with mild to moderate hearing loss will make this a reality. Senators Warren and Grassley introduced a bipartisan bill in December and according to their recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine, they plan to reintroduce it in 2017. Their bill is in reaction to the National Academies of Sciences report published in June 2016 that recommended a new FDA device category for over-the counter wearable hearing devices.
While a new class of devices would need to be developed carefully to insure safety standards, the innovation it would create in both hearing related products and aural rehabilitation services would be a big win. For everyone.
Readers, would you like a noise canceling feature in your hearing aids?