More than 48 million people are affected by hearing loss in the US alone, but new tech means hearing aids don't just help people hear more clearly – they can stream music, translate languages, and even improve your overall health.
One of the companies launching this new generation of hearing aids is Oticon, which has just launched a new tool called HearingFitness that monitors and analyzes hearing aid use just like an exercise app linked to a smart watch.
Better hearing, better health
"The company has been around for well over 100 years, so we know a lot about helping people with hearing loss," Annette Mazevski, technology assessment manager for Oticon, told TechRadar.
The company's work with connectivity goes back several years. "We started to integrate with Bluetooth a couple of generations ago, said Mazevski. "We first started out with iPhone integration with Apple, who ensure our hearing aids are compliant."
One of the most obvious applications for that connectivity is streaming media and calls from smartphones, but hearing are robust little devices that are capable of much more.
"One of the consistent hot topics is along the lines of AI and machine learning," Mazevski said. "The idea is to take these ideas and have them help not only the people who are wearing the hearing aids, but also the people helping them."
The tool uses data about your wearing habits and environment to establish a baseline, and give you bespoke insight into your own habits. It then prompts you to set listening goals, and tracks your progress towards them, giving you a gentle 'nudge' if you're struggling.
"The more [people] wear their hearing aids, the better it is for them socially," said Mazevski. "Wearing hearing aids helps in terms of isolation, and even avoiding dementia. [The app] is a great way to help the person with hearing loss to make sure they keep tabs on their own use."
Preventing future hearing loss
HearingFitness has just landed, but Mazevski says the reception has already been very positive. "There's been a lot of interest in the app, tracking data, and getting information on hearing habits, Where we had beta testing done, [users reported that] it was easy and intuitive to use," she said.
"With the HearingFitness app, what we have been doing is trying to find ways to not just engage the user with their hearing health, but to show how their hearing health can impact other areas of their lives.
"Consumers are very interested and invested in their health, and this is another step to see if they can change their patterns of behaviour – go back to their audiologist and see if there's anything they can do to empower themselves."
Oticon intends to add more features to the app in the coming months and years. It's currently conducting research into prevention of noise-induced hearing loss, and improving personalization based on your preferences. For more details, check out the company's white paper, which explains its current tech and its plans for the future.