At their most basic, hearing aids amplify sound to help people with hearing loss hear better. But that is where the similarities between the many options stop. Turns out, all hearing aids are NOT created equal, as our panel of experts explained in a recent Starkey Sound Bites podcast.
In the episode, Sound Bites host Dave Fabry, Ph.D and Starkey’s own Dr. Archelle Georgiou and Jamie Myers, Au.D. answered the FAQ, “Aren’t all hearing aids basically the same?” We’ve transcribed their answer below. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Dave Fabry, Ph.D. — "Jamie, some people will ask, aren't all hearing aids the same? Isn't it the case that all hearing aids do is just make things a little louder? Like if I have a relative who has a hearing loss, if I just shout at them a little bit, won't that eliminate the need for a hearing aid?
Jamie Myers, Au.D. — Oh, yeah. I wish. Wouldn't life be so much easier?
Dave Fabry, Ph.D. — But we'd be shouting to each other all the time.
Jamie Myers, Au.D. — That's true. Our voices might be strained. You alluded to it earlier with the different technology tiers, the style, the model — that we have to make the decision based on those lifestyle questions and listening needs: what do you do every day? And what's important to you?
Do you still work? Do you like going to restaurants or are you in more quiet settings? Do you like to spend time at home watching TV, talking to your grandchildren? Helping you prioritize your listening needs will help us narrow down which technology you need.
So we have the more basic hearing aids that help you mostly in quiet. And then as you go up in technology, they help you more in background noise. And we have charts and graphs that'll help you make this decision, but they certainly do get more complicated in how we process the sound.
If we just make everything louder, you wouldn't like that. Really, when we start to lose that high frequency hearing, we start to lose those consonants, which in the English language is what we need to understand each other. So I always use the analogy of Charlie Brown's teacher talking, “wah wah woh wah wah wah woh,” is what you can start to hear when you lose that high frequency hearing loss, and hearing aids can bring back those consonants.
But with that comes a lot of really annoying sounds — the clicking of pens, the swishing of paper, your feet on the carpet, even your hair brushing back, all of those make sounds. And perhaps you've lost the ability to hear those really soft sounds throughout the years that you've had untreated hearing loss. So hearing aids have gotten really smart over the years to be able to pick up on those speech sounds while also not making those annoying soft sounds just as loud.
It's actually very complex and the research that's been done — especially in the last decade — has just been incredible to really make them less of that overall amplification device and really more precise with what we amplify.
Dave Fabry, Ph.D. — And to expand on that, maybe for both of you, I'll put in a shameless plug for Starkey technology and talk about the fact that we have been on a journey to really redefine and reinvent the hearing aid from a single-purpose device into a multipurpose, multifunction one that can help address not only hearing — which as you've said is Job One of any hearing aid — but also talk briefly, either one of you, about the way that we're incorporating embedded sensors in our technology and why that's important to hearing aid users.
Dr. Archelle Georgiou — Well, Dave, I'll take that. We talked earlier about the fact that hearing loss is associated with depression, social isolation, loneliness, and of course dementia. But there are more health conditions that are associated with hearing loss. And one of them is that people with hearing loss have three times the risk of falls. They have twice the risk of getting injured doing everyday things that they love.
This isn't just your grandmother or your grandfather falling. These are people with hearing loss that are younger, might be playing golf or riding a bike, they have an increased risk of falling, too. A few possible reasons for that? One is that with hearing loss, you do become more socially isolated. So you have less activity, therefore you have less muscle strength. Therefore, you have some frailty.
It could also have to do with the inner ear, the vestibular system, because our ears make us aware of our environment and keep us balanced. There are a number of different factors that put people with hearing loss at risk for falling. And so for all of those reasons, we have made our hearing aids much more sophisticated by putting sensors in them.
The sensors and the AI that we put in our hearing aids have a fall detection feature, because we're all at risk for falling regardless of our age. And the more you get beyond the age of 65, the higher risk you are.
And then applying artificial intelligence so that our hearing aids not only give you this great Starkey Sound™, but they also monitor your activity levels, the number of steps you take, whether you're running or walking or sitting and giving you feedback about that.
Because, it's really important to encourage yourself to remember to stay active. So that was a long way of answering your question Dave.
Dave Fabry, Ph.D. — No, I'm glad you did. And I would just point to one other element too that relates to that health and wellness piece. In addition to the physical activity, cardiovascular health, and then the cognitive health, another area is medication adherence. And particularly in the aging population, we know that adherence to chronic medication protocols is about 50 percent in many individuals.
So our hearing aids have a reminder that can be set on a daily basis throughout the day. If you're taking multiple medications, it will give you an audible alert to take your medications at a designated time. And that's been something that's been really well received by many wearers and providers alike because it just helps give you that additional edge to stay on top of your medication protocol or not be late for your meetings.
Dr. Archelle Georgiou — Well, across the general population, Dave, you're absolutely right that adherence to medication for the entire country — hearing loss or no hearing loss — is really just at 50 percent. And the whole medical industry doesn't know how to crack that nut.
But I'll say that people with hearing loss have even lower adherence and as a result also have a higher risk of being readmitted to the hospital because they didn't hear. It's not that they just don't want to take their medication, they couldn't hear their practitioner when they advise them on the frequency of taking their medication, et cetera. So people with hearing loss really benefit from those reminders and the assistant because they're at risk for so many reasons, and our hearing aids begin to mitigate a little bit of that risk.
Dave Fabry, Ph.D. — So when you add up the difference in sound quality and the health, wellness and assistive features our hearing aids provide, the answer is no, all hearing aids are definitely not the same."
To find a nearby hearing professional or audiologist who you can work with to find the best hearing aid for your unique needs, simply type your zip code in here. It will a generate a list of local providers who you can contact. To listen to this Starkey Sound Bites podcast (as well as past and future episodes) look for it wherever you get your podcasts.
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