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

Have you used your ear trumpet lately? No? You don’t use one? Because that technology is centuries old. Okay, I suppose that makes sense. Ear trumpets are a bit… antiquated.

The basic shape of the modern hearing aid was designed in the 1950s. And for some reason, that’s the hearing aid which has become identified in our collective consciousness. The trouble is that a hearing aid built in the 1950s is just about as out-dated as a hearing trumpet. We need to really expand our thinking if we want to recognize how much better modern hearing aids are.

The History of Hearing Aids

It’s useful to have some context about where hearing aids began in order to better understand how advanced they have become. If we follow the history back far enough, you can likely find some form of hearing assistance device as far back as the 1500s (whether any of them ever actually helped you hear better is probably unlikely).

The “ear trumpet” was perhaps the first marginally useful hearing assistance mechanism. This device looked like a long horn. The wide end faced the world and the narrow end was oriented inside your ear. Today, you wouldn’t think of this device as high tech, but back then they actually give some assistance.

The real revolution came once electricity was invited to the party. The hearing aid that we are familiar with was really developed in the 1950s. In order to work properly, they relied on large old fashioned style batteries and transistors in a quite rudimentary design. But a hearing aid that could be easily worn and hidden began with these devices. The hearing aids of the 1950s may have looked comparable to modern hearing aids but the technology and capability is worlds apart.

Hearing Aid’s Modern Capabilities

Bottom line, modern hearing aids are technological masterpieces. And they’re constantly improving. In several profound ways, modern hearing aids have been taking advantage of the digital technology of the later twentieth century. The first, and the most important way, is simple: power. Earlier models had batteries which had less power in a larger space than their current counterparts.

And a long list of sophisticated advances come with increased power:

  • Bluetooth connectivity: Your hearing aids can now communicate with other devices via wireless Bluetooth technology. This can be very helpful every day. Old style hearing aids, for instance, would have annoying feedback when you would try to talk on the telephone. With contemporary hearing aids, you can just connect to your cellphone using Bluetooth connectivity and never miss a call. You will also use Bluetooth connectivity to participate in a wide variety of other electronic activities. Because there’s no interference or feedback, it’s easier to watch TV, listen to music–you name it.
  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss commonly manifests as loss of specific frequencies and wavelengths of sound. Maybe you have a harder time hearing high-frequency sounds (or vice versa). Modern hearing aids are a lot more effective because they can boost only the frequencies you have a hard time hearing.
  • Health monitoring: Advanced Health monitoring software is also included in modern hearing aid choices. For example, some hearing aids can recognize when you’ve fallen. There are others that can keep you informed about your fitness goals like how many steps that you’ve taken.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids are typically made of advanced materials, so they feel more comfortable. These new materials enable hearing aids to be lighter and more robust simultaneously. And with the addition of long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but the outside–of hearing aids have improved over the years.
  • Speech recognition: The ultimate goal, for most hearing aid owners, is to assist in communication. Many hearing aids, then, have built-in speech recognition software created to isolate and boost voices mainly–which can be quite helpful in a wide variety of situations, from a crowded restaurant to an echo-y board room.

The older style hearing aids no longer exemplify what hearing aids are, just as rotary phones no longer capture what long distance communication looks like. Hearing aids have changed a lot. And we should be excited because they’re a lot better than they used to be.

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