Opinion

More Sound, Less Noise: Addressing Hearing Loss in Our Connected World

A lot has changed over the last 75 years, from the way we travel to the way we stay in touch with friends and family. And, thanks to the ever-accelerating pace of technological development, there are no signs of a slowdown.

At the core of innovation is the human need to interact. Communication is driving so many advancements in technology, allowing us to stay more connected than ever to our friends, families and colleagues.

So it should come as no surprise that many of the advances we’ve seen over the last few decades influence and improve the way we communicate. Our phones are now pocket computers, calendars, contact books, cameras and personal assistants. Most of us are nearly inseparable from our phones – we have fallen in love with their power to help us resolve a debate or pull up the number of an old friend in mere seconds. As a society, we are at a point where we wholeheartedly embrace new technologies, recognizing their ability to enhance our everyday lives.

But there is more to advancing communication than just the latest smartphone evolution. Think about the interactions in your everyday life, such as meetings at work, dinner with friends, time spent with families, and phone calls to catch up. For people living with hearing loss, the experiences that many of us take for granted can become challenging to navigate. We do not often consider the role that hearing plays in our ability to live active, happy lives until it is taken away from us. Even then, many are reluctant to adopt a technology to help us adapt, despite our deep love for other, new gadgets that help us in the same goal of communicating.

Beltone has been at the leading edge of innovation in hearing health for the past 75 years, innovation driven by a commitment to bringing the most innovative solutions to people with hearing loss around the world.

Looking back, the industry has seen a steady evolution, consistently striving toward one purpose: to enhance the wearer’s ability to hear. But in more recent years, hearing aids have made a revolutionary leap forward – thanks in part to the kinds of technologies that are powering our beloved smartphones and wearables. Today, instead of the clunky mini-amplifiers our grandfathers wore, hearing aids are now tiny, smart devices, providing better sound than ever in a discreet way.

Achievements in audiology and miniaturization, born from decades of experience, are making hearing aids unbelievably versatile. A tiny antenna can now be built directly into a smart hearing aid, turning the device into a wireless stereo headset. Phone calls and music can now be streamed wirelessly, directly into the devices. And the smartphones we are never without can now control hearing aids at the touch of an app, allowing wearers to easily personalize their hearing experience for any environment – from a windy beach to a crowded restaurant. Gone are the days where a hearing aid just amplified every sound around you – now, these smart devices are functioning more and more like the human ear, with algorithms to hone into the sound of a human voice or pick up the direction of a sound.

All of these leaps – from the practical to the cool (wearing a nearly invisible set of wireless headphones) – have big implications for what it means to wear a hearing aid. Most importantly, these new capabilities might help encourage more people to take care of their hearing health.

Yet still today, it can take more than seven years for someone to address their hearing health, from the time they notice a hearing loss to their first visit to an audiologist. For the more than 30 million Americans living with from some level of hearing loss, that is seven years of missed conversations, social events avoided due to anxiety, and overall frustration.

Given the impact on quality of life, it is no surprise that a recent study by the National Council on the Aging found a distinct link between untreated hearing loss and higher levels of depression. The good news? Those with hearing loss who addressed it with hearing aids were much less likely to feel depressed or isolated. This makes sense, given our intrinsic nature as social creatures – daily interactions, with our friends, colleagues, and loved ones alike, shape our lives and help give us a sense of happiness and wellbeing.

With this in mind, thanks to incredible leaps and strides of the industry, we live in a time where advanced technologies mean we don’t have to sacrifice the moments that make up our years just because of hearing loss. Smart hearing devices will continue to close the gap for those with untreated hearing loss, as they become ever-more discreet, connected, and closer to natural hearing.

To be sure, there is still work to do. But if the last few years are an indicator of what is to come, those with hearing loss have a much brighter future ahead.

Stephen A. Hallenbeck, Au.D, is a Principal Audiologist in Global Audiology. Founded in 1940, Beltone is part of the GN Hearing Care Group, utilizing advanced technology to produce hearing aid instruments in the United States, Canada and over 50 countries worldwide.

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