Wearing hearing aids is a very odd thing. As much as they’ve taught me a lot about myself, they’ve taught me a lot about other people, mainly that there is an intense fascination with ‘otherness’ .
Here’s the back story: I have a degenerative hearing disorder which has left me with about 60% of my hearing in both ears and judging by the state of my mother’s side of the family, my hearing is going to get a lot worse. After spending too many years living under the delusion that I just needed to get my ears syringed every so often, I finally went to get my ears properly checked out. My fabulous doctor relieved me of my delusions and told me that I needed to get fitted with outer-ear hearing aids - I wear Sumo DMs, if you’re interested.
This was almost two and a half years ago and I’ve only just come to terms with the fact that these will be a necessary part of my life until I kick the bucket.
It’s been tough (who really wants molded plastic hooked around their ears for the entirety of their waking life) on a number of levels.
1. I don’t have the cool hearing aids that sit inside the ear and make you like a spy. Unfortunately, I have the behind-the-ear version that hooks outside my ear, like the old school headphones that everyone used to wear to the gym. At least the back section matches my hair colour, although heaven forbid I dye my hair!
2. When some people see that I’m wearing hearing aids, they slow their speech down and speak A LOT LOUDER. I’m not mentally handicapped or stupid, people. If I’m wearing my hearing aids, I can most definitely hear you. Let’s have a normal conversation.
3. There’s a mini-computer in my ear that reads 16 different frequencies. This doesn’t quite make me the Bionic Woman, just yet, but what it does do is extend the range of what I can hear dramatically. Admittedly, if I position myself in the right places, I can hear things I’m not supposed to hear, but mostly I hear a lot more background noise. My brain has had to learn what and what not to filter out and this has taken some time to get used. Imagine the feeling of being on a very loud boat during a storm – lots of nausea, headaches and noise. I can only imagine what Michael Chorost went through on his quest to hear Bolero.
4. A lot of people don’t know where to look once they realise I’m wearing hearing aids. Some people carry on an entire conversation with me whilst staring at my ears. Some people stare at my mouth in a subconscious mimicry of what I generally do when I’m conversing with someone – don’t worry I’m not fascinated with your mouth. I’m doing some lip-reading to make sure I don’t miss anything.
Fortunately, there’s innovation happening in hearing aid design & technology. Check out Wirear.
Wirear utilises a micro fuel cell, a miniature version of fuel cell that uses hydrogen from any hydrocarbon fuel. A 2 ㎠ of micro fuel cell has an estimated life of six years in this type of application proving a more sustainable energy source than the current zinc-air batteries that last approximately three weeks in this application.
The new form enhances usability and addresses a number of technical problems. The microphone is located in front of the ear, maximizing the opportunity of sound capture. The speaker is placed within the ear canal to reduce acoustic error resulting in improved sound quality and effectively decreasing the ‘echo’ sensation experienced when the close proximity of the speaker to the eardrum gives the sound a natural boost in volume. Another benefit of the distance between these elements is the reduction in auditory feedback.
There’s also Phonak’s ‘Audeo Personal Communication Assistant’.
Although the Audeo’s got a chipset that’s as powerful as a Pentium processor, judging from these press adverts, they seem to be targeting the hearing impaired ex-Gladiator market.