The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 5-8 honored two new hearing aids with awards for innovation.
Both communicate with other smart devices, a technology that already exists in other hearing aids.
But, unusually, these are for those with severe to profound hearing loss, a niche market not often addressed.
Both of these hearing aids, the ReSound Enzo pictured above and the Oticon Opn, won CES innovation awards for their ability to connect to a user’s other smart devices, including phones, tablets and even household devices such as smoke alarms. The Oticon Opn, according to the manufacturer, “can be programmed to talk directly with doorbells, smoke detectors and other smart devices.”
Actually, it’s the other way around: These devices talk to the hearing aid. Your smart doorbell, smoke alarm, lighting, safety equipment and appliances can be programmed to send a signal through your hearing aid to let you know, for example, that someone’s at the door or that the smoke detector has gone off. As Victoria Woollaston wrote in Wired , “Missing vital sounds like smoke alarms can be a matter of life and death.”
Opn also features technology that the manufacturer says can make it easier for wearers to hear in noisy environments. Its proprietary BrainHearing technology boosts the parts of the signal the individual doesn’t hear well, such as soft speech, and reduces other sounds.
The ReSound ENZO, a hearing aid specially designed for people with severe to profound hearing loss, can link with the iPhone to directly stream phone calls, music and navigation into the hearing aid. ReSound has another made-for-iPhone model (the LiNX), as does Starkey (the Halo), but what makes this one special is that it is for those hearing aid wearers with the most severe hearing loss — a traditionally small, overlooked portion of the market.
“Paradoxically, the severely hard-of-hearing consumers who need the latest and greatest sound processing innovations are often the last to get them,” wrote David Copithorne on Hearing Mojo. “It’s frustrating for the customers with severe hearing loss who are among the most passionately engaged and brand-loyal consumers in the hearing aid market.”
Like the LiNX, the Enzo allows you to preset audio levels for specific environments like restaurants or your office. The hearing aids don’t come cheap, however. Right now the suggested manufacturer’s retail price ranges from about $2,500 for “entry-level” aids to $6,700 for the top-level aids.
Other innovations at CES that could help those who are hard of hearing include wireless noise-canceling earbuds that enhance sound quality better than other existing earbuds. Apple introduced its AirPod ($160) in September along with the iPhone 7. They joined previously released wireless earphone products, including the Bragi Dash, Samsung IconX and Jabra’s Elite Sport.
Airpods are not hearing aids, but they do allow someone with a mild to moderate hearing loss to hear streaming sound more clearly. These “hearables,” which were also a feature at CES 2016, can act as fitness trackers, health monitors and so on. The hope is that they will eventually serve as hearing aid–like devices. As Consumer Reports noted, “We expect to not only see more cord-free earbuds at CES, but models that actually go beyond noise-canceling technology: The next generation of wireless earbuds will actually filter out ambient noise, and function a bit like a hearing aid to help you hear better in noisy environments.”
CES offers a huge collection of some of the most groundbreaking, innovative devices around. Let’s hope more of them can be applied to the needs of the hard of hearing.
This column first appeared on AARP Health on January 12, 2017