I am so excited about the new ReSound LiNX hearing aids that just came onto the American market the 1st of March. I've been in this business for 36-years now and as I look back over this time frame it seems that every 7 to 8 years there comes along a change in technology that, simply put, changes the whole field of hearing assistance. When I first came into this business I helped introduce the first canal aids in 1980. Next came some of the early analog/digital hybrid hearing aids in the late 1980's, 87-90, from 3-M, Fox and Ensoniq. Next came fully digital hearing aids first introduced by Widex around 1998/9. This was followed in 2006/7 by the first Receiver-in Canal (RIC) aids. Now we have the first “Made For iPhone, iPad & iTouch” hearing aids introduced by ReSound at the European Hearing Conference in Germany in the fall of 2013 and at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2014. Each of these major technology/product introductions has forever how we look at hearing aids and how we address hearing problems. This last change has now changed our view of how we look at hearing aids, they are no longer just a medical necessity for people with hearing loss but now they are a consumer product that couples an individual to some of our most important communication and entertainment devices on the market today. The MFi hearing aid can now couple a person to their family and friends through the iPhone, Facetime, their music, movies, driving directions from there GPS unit, and a multiple of other events we can only guess at.
There used to be an old joke in the industry in the early 80’s, when hearing aids sold for around $400 a piece, about a man that went into a hearing aid dispenser’s office and asked what the price of hearing aid were. The dispenser told him they had hearing aids for $4,000 per aid at the high end and at the low end they had one for $1.50. The man asked what he got for $4000 and the dispenser told him they put this computer in his ear and programmed it just for his hearing loss to give him the best speech clarity. It also would change how it amplified when he walked into a noisy listening environment. In addition if he was going to a foreign country he could come in and they could program the hearing aid to translate from that country’s language in English for him. He responded great but if he bought the low end what did he get? The dispenser told him they would give him a button with a string tied to it that he could place in his ear. The man asked him how that helps him hear. The dispenser told it doesn’t but when people see the string and button in the ear they all talk louder.
Back when this joke came out we only had analog technology in hearing aids, I was shown a digital hearing aid by Wayne Staab, developed by Dahlberg Electronics, in 1984 but it filled a large suitcase and weighed about 45 pounds, and the first personal computers were just coming onto the market. They were big and bulky pieces of iron. So everyone thought this was truly science fiction. Today we can do all of the things talked about in the joke including language translation, there are apps out that will translate from one language to another language, and the phone will send the translation directly to the hearing aid and into the ear. Really does seem like what was talked about as joke, way back when, is now today’s fact.
Think of it a total connection to the world around them. Many of my patients need to speech read as well as hear what is being said to fully, or partially, understand what is being said. For several years now I have been suggesting to these patients that they use Facetime or Skype to carry on conversations with family members and friends. Now the voices can be delivered directly into both ears while they watch the faces to get all of the visual clues. This is truly a game changer for the hearing aid industry.