The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show just wrapped up in Las Vegas, and several hearing aid manufacturers released some new technology.

Oticon, one of the big six hearing aid manufacturers, announced the world’s first hearing fitness tracking tech with their new HearingFitness app, meant to be used with their Opn line of hearing aids. This actually won an Innovation Award for this year’s CES! My general impression is that the app is meant to positively reinforce the benefit of wearing their aids, as tracking tends to improve mental acuity and keep users socially engaged.

The new app will track hearing aid use, listening environments and other behavior, gathering and collating data with measurements of heart rate, sleep patterns and other health markers for other wearable devices. The new technology is designed to give Opn users advice and encouragement on ways to hear better, protect their hearing and stay healthier. (source)

This is especially important for the elderly population with age-related loss, and regular use of hearing aids is shown to stave off dementia.

Another big manufacturer, ReSound, did not announce brand-new tech, but won 3 Innovation Awards at CES this year, mainly due to their newest aids, the LiNX 3D and the ENZO 3D. You can read a little more about these on my hearing aid breakdown, but the honor comes from ReSound committing to providing the same smart connectivity in their ENZO aids for severe-to-profound loss that you see in their “lighter” models. That’s a HUGE benefit, as I’ve never gotten to enjoy bluetooth connectivity in the aids I need and currently wear.

No new tech from Starkey at CES, but they did host the Starkey Hearing Innovation Expo immediately before the CES weekend in Las Vegas and it was a big hit with a lot of VIP guests and speakers. Let me know if you’d like a write up on this kind of thing as well!

So far, I haven’t seen any CES news from the other main hearing aid manufacturers, but there were several other interesting product ideas that were presented.

Bragi, a company that specializes in wireless earbuds, announced they were partnering up with Mimi Hearing Technologies to create “Project Ears;” the details are scarce but it seems like the ear buds will auto-adapt to a user’s hearing for a personalized enhancement WITHOUT being a hearing aid. This would be interesting if it was able to combat tinnitus issues or actually help protect hearing in some environments.

In a similar vein, Nuheara announced their hybrid ear bud/amplification device specifically for voice enhancement, with a “hearing test” in the app.

The reason we’re seeing more companies branch into the hearing side of audio technology is due to the FDA’s deregulation of hearing aids last spring. This is an exciting new arena, but of course, I’m curious to see how closely regulated these are to avoid damage to hearing, as the companies seem mostly motivated to carve out a niche in a saturated market of wireless audio options.

What are your thoughts on some of the new announcements?

Some deaf/HoH folks out there change out their hearing aids pretty often, but for me, this was really my first time as an adult buying a new hearing aid. I’ve been wearing a Siemens Acuris P for the last decade, purchased by my mother (thank you Mom!) when I was 20 and DRAGGING MY HEELS on switching from my totally analog 90’s aid prior to that. It was a really tough adjustment. I cried. It was as if an optometrist gave you someone else’s glasses prescription and said “Here! Get used to it!”

Flash forward to now, I’m 30, and I trusted my audiologist when she recommended the high-end Oticon Dynamo for me, so that’s what I went with. The best part was, I’m paying nothing as my insurance now fully covers my aid replacement every 5 years. Still, I was nervous! But I didn’t cry.

The fitting/programming appointment was this morning, and when the aid got switched on, the doctoral student looked at me and said “How’s that?” My response was “Um, terrible…” much to her surprise. Turns out the aid defaults to a very digital mode which is big on background noise suppression, so it felt like I had an FM telecoil loop on–I had NO background noise and I felt like the tech and I were in a barrel talking to each other. A truck could have been bearing down on me and I would have been oblivious. I’m all about hearing every little thing, maybe more so than most, so I didn’t like that. Once that got turned off in favor of the more “analog” sound letting everything in, it was SO much better and sounded remarkably like what I was used to.

I can see why someone like my parents, who struggle to catch what someone says in a busy setting, might want that kind of digital technology doing the work of cutting out background stuff. For me, the aid is the difference between hearing nothing and everything, and I wanted to be able to hear ambient noise, especially with a baby on the way. It’s what I’m used to, and I wonder if I’m in the minority or not on that.

Day 1 is going really well, considering! I made a point to use my iPhone while I was still in the office to check on feedback noise, and to make sure the telecoil option was working well. Right after everything was set up, I called my husband and my mom, two voices I’m very familiar with, to make sure they sounded “right” to me. On the way into the audiologist, I played a song I know well, and I did the same thing on the way home as a way to compare. I recommend doing these things, as it helped me feel good about what I walked out with.

Because of the new aid, tubing, and mold, my ear’s a little “sore” in that the physical fit is a little different and will take a couple days before it feels natural. I will say, I can tell the aid is very comfortable and less bulky than my old one. As for the sounds, the dog’s barks are too loud, along with my being overly conscious of the keyboard clacking and a ticking clock. Sort of funny, but I do remember going through this the last time and cringing every time the cash register ka-chinged at work, so there’s bound to be some sort of eccentric adjustments as the brain has to re-wire itself a little. I have a follow-up appointment set for two weeks from now, but if all goes well, I won’t need to make any adjustments!

Do you have similar experiences when getting a new aid (or aids)?

I’d be curious to know how often those that wear a hearing aid upgrade to new ones. I tend to dig my heels in at the prospect, because I don’t like the change. If I’m going to be real frank, I bought my current aid in 2007/2008 and it was my first digital aid. I was still analog into the 2000s, people.

What am I getting?

Well, it’s 2016, so it’s time again. I’ve had a Siemens Acuris P BTE aid (and a backup unit) for at least 8 years, but I go to a different audiology practice now that are experts in different brands. As my new audiologist explained it, there’s about 6 or so big manufacturers. This time around, I’m going with the Oticon Dynamo, getting their top-tier BTE aid. As far as hearing aids go, it looks pretty sleek.

Oticon Dynamo Hearing Aid in BeigeWhy do I hate getting a new aid? Well, for one, it’s never going to sound exactly like your old one as soon as they get you set up. There are so many subtle variations to the programming of frequencies. I’m hoping that going from one digital aid to another, it won’t be as drastic of a change. When I switched to my current one from an ancient analog aid, it was ROUGH. I’ve always been sensitive to what hearing I have being compromised, but I cried pretty hard even with my mom there (I was about 21 years old?). My audiologist said “make a list of everything wrong, and come back in two weeks”. That list was a mile long at first–people’s voices were too soft, the cash register I worked on was ear-splitting, and phone conversations gave me a headache. But, then, my brain essentially re-wired and re-learned how to hear, and all was adjusted by that two-week followup. Incredible.

The Cost

Even though I don’t sign and exist totally within the speaking community, my hearing loss is still pretty significant–essentially deaf in the right ear (no aid), moderate-to-profound in the left (aid). I need all I can get. That means splurging on the top of the line aid. One HUGE development in recent years, though, is that hearing loss is starting to be insured! My insurance, for the first time ever, will pay $1500 towards my new aid. Of course, I still have to pony up about $2000, but hey, it’s something.

We moved back home to the U.S. from three years stationed overseas in Germany this year, bought a house, ended up having to buy a car, and we’re going into the holidays, so money is tight, to say the least. I have a baby coming in spring, though, so I want to get this done before all my free time is gone. Soon, I’ll go in to get the ear mold done and the order placed, and I’m guessing some time early next year, I’ll make the switch! I won’t lie, I’m nervous about it.

Buying a secondary aid?

One thing my husband and I have talked about pretty seriously is getting ANOTHER aid, a waterproof one (the Siemens Aquaris). I joke about it, but honestly, I’m still mad I couldn’t play Marco Polo in the pool as a kid. My husband says it’s not even that fun but I still want to do it. I’d love to go to the pool and still be able to hear, or take a shower when baby’s here and listen for crying when my hair’s wet. I don’t think it’s in the cards this year, as it’s at least $2200 for the mid-level aid, $3k for the highest sound quality. That’s a lot of cash for a secondary, occasional aid.

What are your thoughts on the process of getting a new aid?