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The Rise of High-Quality Non-Prescription Hearing Aids

Summary:
My Dad used to say that he had planned on reading a lot after he retired. But his eyesight got enough worse that it was hard for him to read. He never really got into audiobooks. That might have had something to do with the fact that he resisted hearing aids. My Dad was not alone in his resistence to using hearing aids. In her March 27, 2021 Wall Street Journal article “New Hearing Aids, iPhone Apps and Tech Mean More Hearing-Loss Options—But Also New Struggles” (from which all quotations in this post are taken), Julie Jargon reports:After first experiencing hearing loss, people take an average of five to seven years to seek help, according to

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The Rise of High-Quality Non-Prescription Hearing Aids

My Dad used to say that he had planned on reading a lot after he retired. But his eyesight got enough worse that it was hard for him to read. He never really got into audiobooks. That might have had something to do with the fact that he resisted hearing aids. My Dad was not alone in his resistence to using hearing aids. In her March 27, 2021 Wall Street Journal article “New Hearing Aids, iPhone Apps and Tech Mean More Hearing-Loss Options—But Also New Struggles” (from which all quotations in this post are taken), Julie Jargon reports:

After first experiencing hearing loss, people take an average of five to seven years to seek help, according to the Hearing Industries Association.

Fortunately, the market for hearing aids will soon become much closer to a free market; an efflorescence of hearing aid offerings in the broad sense should facilitate people trying hearing aids much earlier in life:

A new law is set to make over-the-counter hearing aids available to people without a visit to the audiologist, opening the door for a wider variety of inexpensive products marketed to people with only mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Hearing loss is a big deal:

Hearing loss has been linked to increased depression, cognitive decline and greater risk of falls.

One of the big recent advances is using the power of smartphones to give hearing aids access to computing power:

Even Apple’s AirPods Pro can now amplify the quiet sounds without making loud sounds any louder so that people running iOS 14 on their iPhones can enjoy music, podcasts, audio books and phone calls more comfortably. Further sound customization is available for people who enter a personal audiogram—a graph showing how loud sounds need to be at various frequencies in order to be heard—into the Apple Health app. Third-party apps such as Mimi can test your hearing and generate an audiogram.

There also are apps that work with people’s existing devices—whether hearing aids, earbuds or headphones—to separate speech from noise.

… like some other app-based hearing devices, many hearing aids now use smartphones’ processing power to utilize machine learning, enabling the wearer to adjust their hearing to different settings. Older hearing aids simply amplified all sounds.

What I see as the big advance there is that perfectly adapting a hearing aid to the individual at the doctor’s office is no longer necessary. The user of the hearing aid can keep adjusting it every day until they get it right, even if they only figure out what “right” is gradually.

I am determined not to resist hearing aids as I get older. I had my hearing tested fairly recently. I am not hearing high frequencies as well as a used to, but the audiologist said I don’t need hearing aids yet.

One scientific fact connects the way hearing loss first shows up and the Linguistics I learned for my Master’s degree. (See “Miles's Linguistics Master's Thesis: The Later Wittgenstein, Roman Jakobson and Charles Saunders Peirce.”) Distinguishing consonants requires the higher frequencies that are the leading edge of hearing loss, while vowels can be distinguished based on lower frequencies. I can already notice some extra difficulty in distinguishing consonants in my own hearing. It wouldn’t be a problem yet, except that I really like to get every word when someone says something interesting!

Along these lines, you should be aware that there are higher and lower quality hearing tests. The low-quality hearing tests are mostly about whether you can detect that a sound is there, without testing whether you know what the sound is. High-quality hearing tests also test how well you can distinguish consonants.

We are all getting older—which, as they say, is better than the alternative. I hope you, too, will set a goal of not resisting hearing aids when the time comes. The new hearing aid options that will soon hit the market mean you have less excuse than ever to resist.

For annotated links to other posts on diet and health, see:

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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