Brent Edwards – Brent.Edwards@nal.gov.au
Popular version of paper 1pPPa, “Trends that are shaping the future of hearing aid technology”
Presented Monday afternoon, May 7, 2018, 1:00PM, Nicollet D2 Room
175th ASA Meeting, Minneapolis
Hearing aid technology is experiencing a faster rate of change than it has in the history of its existence. A primary reason for this is its convergence with consumer electronics, resulting in an acceleration of the pace of innovation and a change in its nature from incremental to disruptive.
Hearable and wearable technology are non-medical devices that use sensors to measure and inform the user about their biometric data in addition to providing other sensory information. Since hearing aids are worn every day and the ear is an ideal location to place many of these sensors, hearing aids have the potential to become the ideal form factor for consumer wearables. Conversely, hearable devices that augment and enhance audio for normal hearing consumers while also measuring their biometric data have the potential to become a new form of hearing aids for those with hearing loss, combining medical functionality of hearing loss compensation with such consumer functionality as speech recognition with always-on access to Siri. The photo below shows one hearable on the market that allows the wearer to measure their hearing with a smartphone app and adjust the audibility of the hearing to personalise the sound for the individual’s hearing ability, a process that has similarities to the fitting of a traditional hearing aid by an audiologist.
Accelerating this convergence between medical and consumer hearing technologies is the recently passed congressional bill that mandates the creation of a new over-the-counter hearing aid that consumers can purchase in a store and fit their own prescription. E-health technologies already exist that allow a consumer to measure their own hearing loss and apply clinically-validated prescriptions to their hearable devices. This technology development will explode once over-the-counter hearing aids are a reality.
Deep science is also impacting hearing aid innovation. The integration of cognitive function with hearing aid technology will continue to be one of the strongest trends in the field. Neural measures of the brain using EEG have the potential to be used to fit hearing devices and also to demonstrate hearing aid benefit by showing how wearing devices affects activity in the brain. Brain sensors have been proven able to determine which talker a person is listening to, a capability that could be included in future hearing aids to enhance the speech from the desired talker and suppress all other sounds. Finally, science continues to advance our understanding of how hearing aid technology can benefit cognitive function. These scientific and other medical developments such as light-driven hearing aids will advance hearing aid benefit through the more traditional medical channel, complementing the advances on the consumer side of the healthcare delivery spectrum.