Twenty years ago, hearing aids were big, bulky and served one single purpose – to amplify sound and allow the wearer to “hear more.”  However, hearing more sound often left the wearer frustrated and overwhelmed due to the amplification of unimportant sounds along with those the wearer most wanted to hear.

2005 to 2010 brought in a new era of sophistication: smaller hearing aids and products that could help the wearer manage background noise.  With the plethora of marketing focused on the hearing aids ability to “reduce background noises,” a wave of current hearing aid wearers decided it was time for an upgrade – and they quickly found that this technology left much to be desired.  The primary reason for this is because separation of sounds occurs in the brain and people often neglect their hearing for so long, or wait until the hearing impairment is so bad that the devices are unable to do the one thing that people still, to this day, crave – hearing their loved ones while reducing of background noise.  This is the proverbial “having your cake and eating it too” scenario.

In 2009, Frank Lin, et al., of Johns Hopkins University, published research indicating that hearing impairment had a direct correlation to brain health.  Over the coming years, many researchers further proved the connection of hearing health to brain health and quality of life (QoL).  When this information was first published, it was met with eagerness and overzealousness from a professional point of view – professionals often oversold the capabilities of hearing aids in an effort to get people to wear them and further believed that hearing aids could prevent the cognitive decline of their patients without having any way of comparing and measuring the aspects of healthcare that contribute to the decline in cognitive function.

That is, until now.  For the first time in hearing aid history, Starkey Hearing Technologies has developed a hearing aid so sophisticated they no longer call it a hearing aid!  They’ve ushered in a new era of devices capable of pairing hearing health with overall health – and they call it a healthable.

With the use of Artificial Intelligence, Starkey Hearing Technologies has partnered with companies like Apple,® Samsung,® Google,® and Amazon® to bring a product to market that can detect when their wearer falls (and send immediate text alerts to family) and translate up to 27 languages in real time!  Can you imagine the uses for something like this?  A customer who speaks German can walk into your store and speak their primary language and you can hear them in plain English, in real-time, in your ear!  Okay, okay, perhaps this seems like an unnecessary feature but this feature has lead the way to a great many more features available in today’s modern hearing aid – and one cannot deny that hearing aids have just hit the “cool” factor.

In fact, healthables are so cool that even those without a hearing impairment are seeking them out for the fitness tracking, social engagement scores, and language translation services.  People with tinnitus are now able to be fit with a multi-purpose device that helps them control the unwanted noise in their head and allow them to hear speech without exerting as much effort.  And the coolest feature – I don’t have to pay for ear pods or any of those other pesky devices that are  causing 1 in 6 teens to lose their hearing!  I can stream music and phone calls, safely, to my hearing aids without an intermediary device and the quality is amazing.

Forget who the 5th U.S. President was?  Simply double-tap your ear and ask your hearing aid!  Family in bed and you want to watch TV?  Easy, put the TV on mute and stream sound to your hearing aids with a slick streamer that can make nearly any TV “modern.” 

So, with all these incredible cool features, one must ask…so what have they done to address hearing in a noisy restaurant – and that is a feature that is beyond “cool” it is incredible.  With a little device that looks like a small disc, it can be set on a table (appropriately named table mic) and the hearing aid wearer sets the mode to beam in on the person they most desire to hear!  As a person who has severe challenges hearing speech-in-noise, this is the first product I have ever tried – and pre-ordered!  Want to hear two people at a table in a noisy restaurant, that’s okay too.  You just set the beam to both people to give their speech input a priority.

The real issue is no longer the size and quality of the product available in today’s marketplace.  The issue is the number of young people over-exposing their ears to noise and damaging the precious cilia in their ears causing long-term damage to the brain.  The issue is the 40 year-old who believes they hear fine and neglects to monitor their hearing.  The issue is a 60 something year-old who continues to associate hearing aids with this stigma that they are for “old people” and denying they have hearing impairment, further causing themselves to age much more rapidly due to vanity.  The issue is an 80 year old who has waited so long to accept help that nothing – no matter how sophisticated the product has become – will help them communicate with their loved ones because the damage is far beyond that of a hearing impairment.

Samantha Sikorski, HIS ACA, is the owner of a two-location hearing aid practice in NW Wisconsin, Sikorski Hearing Aid Center, Inc.  Samantha serves as Chair of the Managed Care and Compliance Committee for the International Hearing Society, serves as Chair of the Advanced Education Task Force for the International Hearing Society and serves on the International Institute of Hearing Instrument Studies.  At the state level, Samantha serves as the Treasurer of the Wisconsin Alliance of Hearing Professionals as well as Chairs the Wisconsin Alliance of Hearing Professional’s annual convention and meeting.  Samantha co-founded and co-owns, a CRM company dedicated to helping fellow professionals improve their practice management and heads the insurance billing services for that company.

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