Woman wearing hearing aids climbing hill with family and laughing at a joke.

When was the last time you used that old ear trumpet? No? You don’t use one? Because that technology is centuries old. Okay, I suppose that seems logical. Ear trumpets are a bit… antiquated.

The basic shape of the modern hearing aid was developed in the 1950s. And that old style hearing aid tends to be the one we generally remember and picture. The trouble is that a hearing aid developed in the 1950s is just about as antiquated as an ear trumpet. To understand just how much better modern hearing aids are, we have to unshackle our imaginations.

The History of Hearing Aids

To be able to better understand just how advanced hearing aids have become, it’s helpful to have some context about where they started out. If we follow the history back far enough, you can probably find some form of hearing assistance device as far back as the 1500s (whether any of them ever really helped you hear better is probably unlikely).

The “ear trumpet” was most likely the first somewhat useful hearing assistance apparatus. This construct was shaped like, well, a long horn. The wide end faced the world and the narrow end was put inside your ear. These, um, devices were not exactly high tech, but they did provide some measurable help.

When electricity was introduced, hearing aids had a significant innovation. The hearing aid as we now know it was essentially created in the 1950s. In order to do their job, they used large old fashioned style batteries and transistors in a quite rudimentary design. But these gadgets represent the start of a hearing aid that could be easily worn and concealed. Of course, modern hearing aids might share the same form and function as those early 1950s models–but their functionality goes light years beyond what was possible 7 decades ago.

Modern Features of Hearing Aids

Bottom line, modern hearing aids are technological masterpieces. And they keep making improvements. Since the late twentieth century, modern hearing aids have been benefiting from digital technologies in some significant ways. Power is the first and most essential way. Modern hearing aids can pack substantially more power into a much smaller space than their earlier predecessors.

And with that greater power comes a large number of innovative developments:

  • Bluetooth connectivity: Contemporary hearing aids are now able to connect to all of your Bluetooth devices. This can be amazingly useful on a daily basis. For example, hearing aids used to have a hard time dealing with telephone calls because users would hear considerable (and sometimes uncomfortable) feedback. When you connect to your cellphone via Bluetooth, the transition is smooth and communicating is effortless. You will also utilize Bluetooth functions to participate in a wide range of other electronic activities. Because there isn’t any feedback or interference, it’s easier to listen to music, watch TV–you name it.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids are typically made of advanced materials, so they feel more comfortable. These new materials allow hearing aids to be lighter and more heavy-duty simultaneously. And by adding long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but also the outside–of hearing aids have improved over the years.
  • Health monitoring: Modern hearing aids are also capable of incorporating advanced health tracking software into their options. For example, some hearing aids can recognize whether you’ve fallen. Other features can count your steps or give you exercise motivation.
  • Speech recognition: For lots of hearing aid users, the ultimate goal of these devices is to facilitate communication. Separating and amplifying voices, then, is a principal function of the software of many hearing aids–which can be pretty useful in a wide range of scenarios, from a packed restaurant to an echo-y meeting room.
  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss does not manifest through all frequencies and wavelengths equally. Maybe low frequency sound is hard to hear (or vice versa). Modern hearing aids are much more effective because they will boost only the frequencies you have a hard time hearing.

Just like rotary phones no longer exemplify long-distance communication, older hearing aids no longer capture what these devices are. Hearing aids have changed a lot. And that’s a positive thing–because now they’re even better.

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