New Starkey hearing aids recharge in their own case, much like Apple’s AirPods

Charging a smartphone is simple: Plug in a cable or place it on a wireless charging pad.

Hearing-aid users often have a tougher time of it. Many still have to swap out little pill-shaped metal batteries that are maddeningly easy to drop and lose in the carpet or couch cushions. It’s a pain.

Now Eden Prairie-based Starkey is offering relief. Earlier this month, the hearing-aid giant announced a new model that recharges much like phones, smartwatches and other consumer devices do.

The Muse iQ Rechargeable hearing aids look nearly identical to other Starkey models, but they ditch the pill batteries for internal lithium-ion batteries that are good for up to 30 hours of use.

The hearing aids are bundled with a charging cradle onto which the audio devices adhere magnetically.

The cradle is compact enough to take on the road, much like the charging cases for Apple’s popular AirPods and other consumer-grade earbuds. And since the cradle itself has an integrated battery, it can charge the hearing aids fully three times without needing to be plugged back into the wall.

Rechargeable hearing aids aren’t new, but are still novel enough to generate excitement among those who have come to hate those pill batteries, said Jason Galster, Starkey’s senior manager of audiology research.

“Everyone struggles with replacing those batteries,” Galster said. “You can imagine an older person with vision impairment and poor manual dexterity dropping and losing them.”

The Muse iQ Rechargeable was until recently impossible to create. Starkey had to work on making the lithium-ion batteries small enough to keep hearing aids at their current sizes, yet maintain enough of a charge for all-day use, Galster said. It helps that hearing aids sip power instead of gulping it like smartphones and tablets do, he noted.

“We had to have the lithium-ion batteries last minimally 12 to 16 hours,” he said. “What we’ve done is design a hearing aid that is the exact same size as our old hearing aids but can last up to 30 hours on one charge.”

Starkey’s Muse IQ Rechargeable hearing aids look like the company’s other hearing aids but have internal batteries similar to those in smartphones along with a case for recharging the devices at home or on the go. (Starkey)

This content was originally published here.

Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids Available in 2020, Affordable Pric – WVIR NBC29 Charlottesville News, Sports, and Weather

Getting older is a part of life, but for some people that means hearing loss, which results in the need for hearing aids.

Hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, but a new bill will allow stores to sell hearing aids over the counter for a more affordable price in August of 2020.

“There’s a lot of variability in how much a hearing aid cost,” said Dr. John Mason. “The factors that go into it include the technology and the location where it’s purchased so its range is broad.”

For those with mild to moderate hearing loss, like Louis Carr, an expensive hearing aid from the doctor isn’t needed.

Louis Carr, who has mild hearing loss said, “I saw an advertisement on television for it and the price was very reasonable compared to some of the extreme costs that the hearing doctor.”

The price Carr paid?

“$200 and it has at least a year to two worth of batteries,” said Carr.

The new bill in Congress will allow companies to sell generic hearing aids over the counter that are similar to custom made ones.

“The FDA is studying these. In their study, they require that the scientific technology is similar and although that’s broad language. That gives directions for manufacturers so they’re supposed to be similar in their scientific technology in a hearing aid,” said Dr. Mason.

Carr said although his hearing aid is generic, it works just fine for what he needs it for.

“They do amplify the volume on the television and my phone calls.”

The hearing aids that are set to become available in 2020 are only for adults and will be for those who have mild to moderate hearing loss.

This content was originally published here.

CVS closes hearing centers. FDA to clear OTC sales of hearing aids

CVS closes hearing centers as FDA readies rules for over-the-counter sales of hearing aids
CVS Health is closing its roughly 30 hearing centers. Next year, the FDA will introduce regulations to bring hearing aids over the counter. CVS is experimenting with new store formats, including HealthHUBs in Houston, Texas.
Angelica LaVito | @angelicalavito Published 3:15 PM ET Fri, 1 March 2019 Updated 6:58 PM ET Fri, 1 March 2019 CNBC.com

This content was originally published here.

Livio AI hearing aids get fall detection, heart rate monitoring, voice assistant – SlashGear

The Livio AI hearing aid from Starkey Hearing Technologies has received an update that adds fall detection, heart rate measurement, a new assistant built on Google Assistant, and other new features. The abilities put Livio AI hearing aids nearly on par with smartwatches and activity trackers, bringing advanced features and functionality not available on competing hearing aid products.

Livio AI is, first and foremost, a hearing aid device. As we’ve previously explained, the inclusion of artificial intelligence has opened the door for functionality beyond what is available in traditional hearing aid products, including direct access to Amazon Alexa and activity tracking for use with Apple Health and Google Fit.

The most recent update revealed at CES 2019 has built upon that foundation, bringing a number of changes that put the hearing aids somewhere near the same abilities as a smartwatch or dedicated fitness tracking device. In addition to Alexa, tap control, and the ability to translate in 27 languages, Livio AI can now monitor the user’s heart rate, engage in voice-to-text translation, and both detect and issue alerts about falls.

The fall detection feature is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to detect when the user falls and send an alert to pre-selected contacts. The company says that it has used “significant new inventions” that will avoid issuing false-positive alerts, making it a reliable detection system for elderly users and those with mobility problems.

In addition to the new tracking ability, Livio AI now features Thrive Virtual Assistant, which is integrated with Google Assistant to provide hands-free support for the user. With this, wearers can get answers to information they seek, such as what the day’s weather will be.

The model works with the new mobile app, a product called Thrive Hearing Control, and the company now offers four compatible wireless accessories, among them being a remote, mini remote microphone, a TV, and the Remote Microphone+. Livio AI hearing aids are currently available in Canada and the United States.

This content was originally published here.

First Eyeglasses Now Hearing Aids — Cutting Out The Brick-And-Mortar Brings Costs Way Down

single flat profile of a human ear isolated against a jade coloured radiating flowing sound waves backgroundGetty

What do Warbyparker.com and eyebuydirect.com, have in common? They are all in the business of selling eyeglasses through the internet. There are now several other competitors in that space as well, and all claim to massively undercut the brick-and-mortar optometry shops. Buying prescription eyewear online seems relatively straightforward, especially for younger people who not only are more accustomed to using new technology to keep costs down, they most likely have simpler eyeglass prescriptions as well.  I think I might try it myself this year.  At less than $500., maybe I would be able to afford more than one pair and could change them out based on what color I was wearing that day – cool!

Even more exciting: I discovered recently that hearing aids could also be purchased online. That transaction sounded like much more of a challenge, technologically; yet, it was even more appealing to me than online eyewear because the cost of hearing aids is much higher than the cost of glasses. I decided to take the plunge with a hearing aid company and test the idea of hearing aids online for myself. I selected Audicus as my hearing aid trial partner, as they claim to be the leader in the online hearing aid space.

I liked Audicus’s customer service and responsiveness immediately. They encouraged me to take their online hearing test even though I had had a recent hearing test at Costco.  I thought it would be interesting to compare the results. I found the two tests to be amazingly similar, though the online test was a bit briefer. The next step in the process was for me to speak to Audicus’s audiologist about my test results and what they recommend in the way of hearing devices.

The result of my Audicus hearing test was virtually identical to the one I had had done at Costco. As is typical for someone my age, I am losing hearing at the upper register. In addition, I am struggling more every year in loud restaurants and classroom situations.  For someone who facilitates workshops and speaks in public, that is not a good trend, so the audiologist and I agreed it was time for me to try hearing aids.

Audicus ClarasS.Geber

There are many shapes and sizes of hearing aids. Audicus specializes in the “receiver-in-canal” variety, so for me the hearing aid of choice would be the “Clara,” their proprietary device of this kind. Average hearing aid prices for this kind of device typically hover around $2000. – $2500. per unit and they can go much higher. Plus, if you have hearing loss in both ears, you will need to double that figure. Audicus prices the basic Claras at $699.––a significant savings. That price can go a bit higher if you want to add enhanced clarity, Bluetooth, or rechargeability, but it stays well below comparable units at hearing aid centers, including Costco.

Hearing aids are seldom covered by health insurance (go figure!), so the consumer often has to bear that full cost burden. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, only 16% of adults age 20-69 who could benefit from hearing aids have ever worn them. Cost is a big factor in the low usage count, so it is possible that we may see more baby boomers wearing them than their parents did if they can reduce the cost barrier.

I have now worn mine for two months and have sent them back for one adjustment so far.  That adjustment proved very helpful in allowing me to hear better in noisy restaurants. I like my Claras and I am getting more and more used to them every day.  As I have learned from the professionals at Audicus and from articles about the results of research on hearing and the brain, adjusting to hearing aids requires time for the brain to adapt to new signals and make different choices about what to interpret.

Audicus is a privately held company. Its founder, Patrick Freuler, wanted to destigmatize hearing aids by making them affordable for a much larger swath of the population that needs them. Patrick’s idea was that the more people wear them, the less stigma there will be. When I interviewed Patrick, he shared some of the learning curve he and his partners went through after launching Audicus in 2012. They first learned that hearing care is something that needs LOTS of personal support. Initially, they underestimated that aspect of the customer experience.  Now, the support team at Audicus is 50% of the company.

Patrick told me they also underestimated how tech savvy baby boomers have become. The idea of purchasing hearing aids on the internet was not as tough a sell as they originally anticipated. In the future, he would like to see Audicus navigate to a complete hearing solution platform. They are currently developing sales channels and partnerships which may allow them to launch Audicus stores in pharmacies, thereby spanning the digital and physical in a variety of combinations, offering consumers many more choices than they have today.

I have learned from my research that if those of us who have hearing loss wait too long to increase our ability to hear the sounds we are missing, our brain will forget about those sounds and we will never hear them again. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon. We only actually hear what our brains have the ability to interpret. Hearing aids help our brains remember the sounds we cannot hear without them and allow us to hear them again. I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer. I hope reducing the cost of hearing aids will allow millions of others to catch their hearing loss before it’s too late for their brains.

This content was originally published here.

Local hearing aid specialist chose career path because it sounded good to her

Written by Ben Cox – Local audiologist Dr. Kris Henry loves her field, even if most people don’t know what the word means. Henry dispenses hearing aids from the Livingston Hearing Aid Center in Commerce Square.

Henry began her journey towards the science of audiology at a much younger age than most folks decide their career path. “I decided to do what I do when I was 11 years old. I didn’t know what audiologists were, I just got exposed to sign language and thought it was incredibly interesting to be able to communicate without words. And I wanted to help people with hearing loss” says Henry.

A sign language course at Girl Scout Camp lead Henry and a friend to investigate and learn what they could from what few books they could find. This equipped them with enough vocabulary to “have pidgin conversations across the auditorium during assemblies and never say a word or get in trouble.”

Her experiences with sign language developed into an interest in hearing loss, and ultimately a degree from Oklahoma State, her masters fromUniversity of Colorado in Boulder then and a doctorate from AT Still University.

Henry has been in the field for 27 years, having run her own clinic for 17 years in Oklahoma dispensing hearing aids, as well as filling in for ENT clinics and area hospitals.

After selling her business, life took Henry to Brownwood and the position at Livingston Hearing Aid Center. The clinic is owned by a family, and is part of “the largest privately owned string of hearing aid clinics in the nation.”

Having 70 clinics nation wide offers a support system that Henry did not have when she owned her clinic in Oklahoma. “I have a lot of resources. Any time I have a question or want to brainstorm on how to really help a patient I have a whole team at our corporate office I can call on.”

Many people would be surprised at how prevalent hearing loss is. “1 in 5 Americans have untreated hearing loss. It’s now directly connected to dementia and depression in the elderly. Due to the lack of socialization and interaction that hearing loss puts upon you.”

Hearing loss affects more than just those with it, Henry explains. “People don’t realize how much compensation they do for themselves as well as all of the people around them. I tell family members I am not just changing the life of the person who is going to be hearing better. I am changing the life of the entire family. The TV can now be played at a volume where everyone can enjoy it, together, in the same room! They no longer have to raise their voices and come across as if they’re angry or frustrated in order to communicate with that person.”

Henry points out that the most noticeable things about hearing aids is if you need them and aren’t wearing them. “People don’t notice hearing aids to begin with unless they’re purposefully looking for them. What people don’t realize is their hearing loss is much more noticeable than anything they could hang on their ears.”

Livingston Hearing Aid Center is located in Commerce Square, between Buffalo Wild Wings and Aldi. They are open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and can be reached by calling 325-203-4780 or by visiting their website.

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Hearing Aids Make Use of Bluetooth Technology

Hearing Aids Make Use of Bluetooth Technology

The primary goal of hearing aids has always been to improve speech understanding. While this hasn’t changed, hearing aid manufacturers are now building Bluetooth technology into their most advanced hearing aid microchips to make speech from phones, televisions, and other devices more accessible to hearing aid users.

Made For iPhone (MFi) hearing aids, which rely on Bluetooth technology, first appeared on the market way back in 2014. The introduction of MFi ushered in a wireless revolution for hearing aid users, allowing – for the first time – a direct wireless connection between phone and hearing aid, and for many, the first clear mobile phone call with hearing loss.

Up until recently MFi has been the only option for hearing aid users wanting built-in Bluetooth technology. This meant no Bluetooth for Android users, and no direct connectivity to non-Apple devices. MFi hearing aids have also never offered true hands-free calling; having the mobile phone close by when speaking, or carrying a remote-microphone accessory, has been required.

Fortunately, there are now more options on the market, and with the release of the “Made For All” Phonak Audéo B-Direct late last year, Android users and hands-free callers with hearing loss have had their prayers answered. Here are the top three innovations that Phonak Audéo B-Direct has introduced to the market:

1. Hearing aids can now directly connect to any Bluetooth-enabled phone.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Thompson, director of business development and veterans affairs at Phonak, previous generations of hearing aids could only directly connect to an iPhone, which greatly limited people’s options.

Pew Research Center found only 33 percent of American smartphone owners used an iPhone while a whopping 66 percent used the Android operating system,” said Thompson. “Another study showed 38 percent of all Americans over age 65 still use a classic flip phone. Until now, there has never been a Bluetooth hearing aid that was truly made for all devices and allowed universal connectivity — including the ability to directly connect to an iPhone, an Android device or even a classic flip phone that is Bluetooth-ready.”

2. Bluetooth hearing aids now offer truly hands-free calls.

Built-in microphones on Audéo B-Direct hearing aids feature automatic voice pickup, allowing people to have two-way conversations through their hearing aids. Thompson stated this is the first time this has ever been done with hearing aids.

“This is indeed the first time a hearing aid wearer can have a true hands-free conversation without having to touch the phone at all,” she said. “This is especially convenient in the car, where your phone may be in a pocket or purse, or if you need to have a conversation while leaving your phone on the table or countertop, for example if you’re cooking.”

3. Hearing aids stream wireless stereo sound directly from your TV.

According to research firm Statista, Americans spend an average of 4.5 hours per day watching TV. And if you have or live with someone who has hearing loss, you probably know that sometimes the volume of the TV can become an issue.

“With a card-sized TV Connector, hearing aid wearers simply plug the device into the back of the TV,” added Thompson. “The ‘plug and play’ TV Connector instantly pairs with the hearing aids, allowing viewers to stream high-fidelity TV-sound in stereo at their preferred volume level, independent of other viewers. Wearers have reported a markedly better experience in understanding dialogue, especially when the person on TV is talking fast.”

Phonak’s TV Connector is also useful for those looking for a portable audio streaming solution. The USB-powered device can stream audio from laptops, MP3 players, and any other device with a headphone jack. Optical audio output is also supported.

Bluetooth Meets the World of Hearing Aids

While device-agnostic Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calls are nothing new in the world of consumer electronics, these are true innovations for the world of hearing aids. And Audéo B-Direct is still very much a hearing aid. Unlike traditional Bluetooth earpieces, the Audéo B-Direct delivers the customizable amplification for Bluetooth audio streams (tailored to the wearer’s unique hearing profile), and runs on Phonak’s AutoSense OS™ platform, which delivers better speech understanding for one-on-one and group conversations, in a variety of listening environments.

To find a licensed hearing professional who has been trained to fit the Audéo B-Direct hearing aids, visit Phonak’s website.

This content was originally published here.

Starkey Ushers in New Era of Sensor-driven Hearing Aids with Livio AI

Starkey President Brandon Sawalich kicks off the Livio AI product launch at the company’s headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn.

On Monday, August 27, at a raucous event that sometimes resembled more of a rock concert than a product introduction, Starkey Hearing Technologies employees and guests celebrated the official launch of Livio AI, a multipurpose sensor-driven hearing aid that Starkey’s CTO and EVP of Engineering Achin Bhowmik, PhD, compares to the iPhone in terms of its potential for reinventing hearing aids.

The new Livio AI contains several firsts and is designed as a multifunctional device, or what Starkey is calling a “Healthable™” hearing technology. These new functions include fall-detection and inertial sensors, fitness and wellness tracking using a “brain and body score,” a real-time language translator, and the ability to control the aid just by tapping it. The “ecosystem” that makes up the the new device is said to revolve around:

“Today, we made the impossible possible,” said Starkey President Brandon Sawalich in his opening remarks at the launch. “We’re going to start looking forward…Our capacity is limitless, and we’re going to change the conversation on hearing aids for people. We’re going to make hearing aids cool.”

Starkey Livio AI hearing aid.

1) A next-generation hearing aid platform. Although great interest may be drawn to the newest features, Sawalich, Bhowmik, and Starkey staff members were keen to emphasize in discussions with The Hearing Review that—first and foremost—Livio AI is a high-performance hearing aid designed to address hearing loss with the best sound processing available to date from the company. Not to be lost in all the sensor-driven features are the hearing-related innovations. Livio AI debuts Starkey’s new Hearing Reality™ technology that reportedly provides an average of 50% more satisfaction in noisy environments, enhanced clarity of speech, and reduced listening effort and cognitive load through its processing and use of AI. It also uses a dual-radio (2.4 GHz and NFMI) technology for extremely clean and energy-efficient transmission of wirelessly streamed audio. Additionally, Livio AI provides for new customizable and portable teleprogramming solutions for both the user and dispensing professional. Finally, the product offers both Apple and Android compatibility (click here for details) for its TV listening and remote mic accessory devices.

But…having said that, it’s hard not to swivel your head at the other features not previously found in hearing aids. Features #2 through #4 below involve the use of inertial sensors in combination with AI:

David Fabry checks the Thrive health and wellness tracking app which draws its data from the embedded motion sensors in the Livio AI hearing aid he is wearing.

2) Health and wellness tracking app. Billed as a groundbreaking hearing, body, and brain fitness tracker, the new Thrive health and wellness app is designed to track steps and physical activity much like other fitness trackers, while also keeping tabs on “brain health” by noting the amount of time the user spends in conversation and in various acoustic environments.

A closer look at the health and wellness tracking app [click on image to expand].

“Starkey uses ‘Hear better, live better’ as our mantra,” said Fabry. “We’re looking at the issues that are facing individuals with untreated hearing loss in the aging population and the cognitive decline that comes with that. What we’re looking [to do is assist patients] with the use of hearing aids that are properly fitted to their hearing loss and ensure that they’re using them on a daily basis.”

Bhowmik says there were 15 million fitness trackers sold worldwide last year—5 times the number of hearing aids sold in the United States in 2017 (a figure that stands out even more if one considers binaural usage).

3) Fall detection and alerts. In what may be the most important sensor-driven feature offered, the Livio AI reportedly provides a system to detect a fall. The statistics on the societal and healthcare costs related to falls in the elderly are eye-popping—some $50 billion in associated costs in the United States in 2015 alone. Although the company didn’t address the prevention of falls, it’s not difficult to envision the usefulness of an ear-level monitoring system that could be used to assess postural instability and/or provide an alert immediately upon detecting a fall.

Bill and Tani Austin, who were on a Starkey Hearing Aid Foundation mission in Madagascar, joined the event via Skype to thank employees for their dedication and hard work in developing Livio AI.

4) Command of the hearing aid by tapping on the aid. The human-machine interface with computers has evolved from using the keyboard, to the mouse, and now includes various touch-screen commands, says Fabry. He says the new Livio AI device can turn on or off the remote mic or the new TV listening accessories by simply tapping the side of the hearing aid.

5) Ear-worn language translator. The language translator feature uses cloud-based information to translate up to 27 different languages, says Bhowmik. He explained that, with this feature, the hearing aid is used as an acoustic sensor, the phone as a gateway transmitter, and the cloud as the language processor with its gigawatts of power to decode and interpret words. The company reports that the translation is as good as any translation software on the market. Importantly, with future refinements in technology, the app could ultimately be used as a real-time “captioning device” to supplement the hearing aid user’s speech comprehension. However, its processing is dependent on the server/network connection speed. “[But] it’s going to get better because the whole world is investing tens of billions of dollars there, and we’re partnering with the best in the world,” said Bhowmik. “So you’ll see this as just a start, and it will get better and better.”

Bhowmik, who has a distinguished track record in technology development and was formerly the VP of perceptual computing at Intel, says Livio AI is the most exciting product launch he has ever been involved in. He is quick to point out that, at the product’s core, is AI—a technology that is changing the world and can bring new benefits to hearing-impaired patients that were previously impossible to address. He believes we are on the cusp of a product revolution.

“Looking back to the hearing industry history first, hearing aids have been reinvented before,” says Bhowmik. “Over the last 30-plus years, hearing aids have gone from these big body-worn devices to these really amazing, small, compact devices that you can wear all day…Now we’re taking another step. Because as good as these devices have been, they remain a single-purpose device. It does only one thing…that is to amplify the sound to help people hear better. I compare [this history] to the journey that phones have gone through in the past. You take the phones of the 50s, 60s, and 70s—big ugly phones—and then phones entered a mobile revolution where they became small and you could carry them around. But phones didn’t stop there, right?…No, they took one more step. In June 2007, with the introduction of the iPhone and the Android phones that followed, they took a single-purpose device that was truly useful to you and turned it into a multipurpose device [that does almost everything]…What has this done to that business? 2007 ended with 160 million smart phones sold. [Ten years later], it went to 1.6 billion phones per year, so the volume of phones that were bought [increased by] 10 times in 10 years.” Bhowmik points out that the current worldwide market for hearing aids is about 16 million units. He asks who wouldn’t like to see that volume increase 10-fold by transforming hearing aids into more useful and desirable products.

Starkey executives were candid in noting that this is a first-generation product relative to some of the the sensor/AI/cloud-based features—features that will continue to evolve in quality, complexity, and utility through upgrades and new versions. Additionally, different types of sensors could be employed in the future, opening up new avenues in hearing healthcare and consumer interest. However, Starkey was careful to reinforced the importance of what might seem, by comparison, the more traditional hearing aid improvements in the Livio AI, including its sound quality, performance, noise reduction and speech processing, remote programming, wireless capabilities, and accessories.

But the new Livio AI is an ambitious start to what may be a new era of multi-function sensor- and AI-driven hearing aids—or “Healthables” to use Starkey’s description.

“This is what we dreamed about for so long, and we really are realizing it now thanks to the team,” said Starkey Founder and CEO Bill Austin via Skype from Madagascar, where he and wife Tani were on a hearing care mission with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. “Everybody working together, incredible leadership by Achin in engineering, and we’re finally bringing hearing aids that will help people live longer, be healthier, and perform to task better. [These hearing aids] are really brain assistants. And that was the vision: that we wouldn’t be selling hearing aids in the future (which is now); we’d be helping people live better lives by giving better inputs into our ‘personal computers’, our brains.”

You can watch the full 45-minute product launch here. The Livio AI is available in the United States and Canada, with a global rollout to more than 20 countries in 2019. It is currently available as a RIC 312 and BTE 13 in a variety of colors. For more information, visit the Starkey Livio AI web page.

Karl Strom is editor in chief of The Hearing Review and has been reporting on hearing healthcare issues for nearly 25 years.

This content was originally published here.

Phonak Launches Marvel with Universal Binaural Streaming

Phonak has launched its new Audéo Marvel receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) hearing aid which brings binaural sound to virtually any form of Bluetooth streaming—IOS, Android, or otherwise—with a unique sound classification technology yielding audio quality that impressed a group of industry experts and hearing aid users last week during a special media event and sneak-peek of the device at the company’s US headquarters in Warrenville, Ill, near Chicago. Based on the third version of Phonak’s Sonova Wireless One Radio Digital (SWORD) chip, the Audéo M is also designed to place the user at the center of the audiological process with an array of new Smartphone apps, remote fine-tuning, and sound processing capabilities, says Phonak US President Jan Metzdorff.

PARC Research Audiologist Lori Rakita, AuD, explains how the AutoSense OS 3.0 technology classifies streamed media in real-time for optimized listening.

New levels of binaural sound quality and universality. One key feature that immediately jumps out in Audéo M is its sound quality. For real audiophiles and others accustomed to hi-fi systems, the sound quality in today’s hearing aids is very good, but can still prompt them to ask why the devices can’t sound like stereo headphones. Of course, the problem—which has been around even before made-for-iPhone (MFi) systems became available—stems primarily from the venting of the aid for real-life environmental speech and sounds. This provides the important natural sound benefits associated with open-fit aids, but has required a trade-off in streamed sound quality. With the Audéo M, Phonak has reinserted a clear richer sound into streamed music, TV, or other devices via hearing aids—and demonstrated fairly dramatic differences in a paired comparison test. The system features AutoSense OS 3.0 which reportedly classifies streamed media for optimized listening.

Phonak staff members Barb VanSomeren; Lori Rakita, AuD; Kailen Berry, AuD; Jan Metzdorff, Abby Poyser, AuD; Christine Jones, AuD, Nicole Klutz, AuD, and John Urbaniak at Phonak US headquarters near Chicago.

“We have the first classifier that also operates on the streamed signal,” said Christine Jones, AuD, Phonak US vice-president of Audiology and director of the Phonak Audiology Research Center (PARC) in Warrenville during a presentation at the media event.  “Some of the early work we did highlighted that there was an opportunity with streaming—as with the unique listening environments that can also be encountered by patients—where someone’s preferences may be very different than when listening to streamed speech, or dialog in media, movies, etc. Listening goals can be different, and sound quality preferences can be different. So, now we are not only classifying the environmental sounds, but we can also classify those streamed sounds to deliver the best possible experience under all listening conditions.”

Although the advanced design of the previous Audéo B-Direct model is award-winning, it does not feature binaural streaming. With the new Audéo M, wearers can now binaurally stream audio content, including smartphone calls, music, eBooks, and more, to both ears from any Bluetooth device.

Phonak points out that iPhones account for only 13% of smartphone use worldwide compared to 86% for the Android OS, and wearers’ choices have been limited primarily to hearing aids that utilize the MFi protocol. Additionally, even with IOS-compatible devices, some forms of MFi hearing aid streaming (eg, streaming from MacBooks and iMacs) were unavailable until now. SWORD 3.0 is capable of running Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth LE, AirStream Technology (for TV), and Binaural VoiceStream Technology for high-speed data transmission between the two hearing aids in a binaural fitting. The new system even works with Siri and LiveListen. (Phonak’s proprietary Roger 2.4 GHz signal will also have direct streaming capabilities to the hearing aid next fall.)

“This means we now have universalbinaural wireless connectivity,” said Dr Jones.  “In order to have the best access to speech on the phone, it’s best to hear well with both ears. And, beyond that, we are the only product that now connects to not just Apple and Android, but any Bluetooth device. This opens up a new world of connectivity for people because of its universal nature…What this means is, that in those cases where something is not accessible through the Apple iPhone or device, it should be accessible through the hearing aid.”

Jones explained that Phonak has also created a sophisticated system called “Environmental Balance” that controls how users hear the streaming in addition to how they hear the surrounding environment, both of which can still be adjusted via the basic volume control. All of this has the potential to open up even more of the popular streaming applications.

Audéo Marvel wearers also benefit from hands-free Smartphone operation. Previously, hearing aid wearers using the MFi (and future ASHA) protocol needed to hold the smartphone up to their mouths and talk into the phone’s microphone to converse. The new hearing aids feature microphone inlets built directly into the housing, allowing wearers to have phone conversations by literally talking through their hearing aids.

Better processing and noise reduction, reducing cognitive load. Additionally, the enhanced SWORD OS incorporates Binaural VoiceStream Technology™ into Marvel hearing aids, a technology most recently employed in Advanced Bionics’ Naida CI sound processor. This four-microphone technology is reportedly capable of improving speech understanding by up to 60% in noisy places like restaurants, while simultaneously reducing the amount of effort by 19% required to listen and understand.1,2

“Audiology is at the heart of everything we do at Phonak,” said Sonova Group VP Martin Grieder in a press statement. “That’s why Marvel is such a game-changer for our industry. Marvel technology empowers people and provides a true ‘love at first sound’ experience. We believe the sound quality is second to none, and it begins the moment the person puts the hearing aids on.”

Phonak Audéo Marvel mini-charger.

Lithium-ion rechargeable technology for “a full day of streaming.” While no reliable statistics exist on the market penetration of rechargeable hearing aids, most experts estimate that about 17-20% of all hearing aids now feature rechargeability. Phonak has been a pioneer in rechargeable hearing aid technology, creating in 2016 the first lithium-ion hearing aids—a technology that appears to be gaining ground with hearing aid manufacturers.

According to Phonak, Marvel hearing aid wearers can enjoy a full day of hearing aid use—including streaming— on a single charge. The Audéo M rechargeable hearing aid also offers new features, automatically turning on or off when taken out or being placed into the charger. The system includes new LED lights and a new mini charger.

Remote fine-tuning and live voice-to-text transcription apps. With Marvel hearing aids comes the introduction of a suite of convenient smart apps. The myPhonak app allows wearers to have their hearing aids adjusted in real-time, in any situation, anywhere via videocall by the hearing care professional. It also gives consumers the ability to rate their hearing aid satisfaction in various environments and directly send this feedback to their hearing care professional.

The myCall-to-Text app reportedly provides live transcription of phone calls from the other party in more than 80 languages. This provides an extremely useful option for hearing aid users in noisy environments, or for people who prefer additional visual captions when using the phone.

New marketing campaign and rollout. A suite of marketing materials has been developed to promote the Marvel launch. Phonak US Vice-president of Marketing Barb VanSomeren explained that the marketing surrounding Marvel emphasizes its multifunctionality, providing consumers with access to the world of sound that we all want via enhanced sound quality, a constellation of devices and streaming options, and phone calls. The new marketing assets highlight Phonak technology, audiology leadership, and Marvel’s diverse capabilities, and includes a video series that features two women exploring all the different ways Marvel can be used in a contemporary format (eg, the women’s dialog resembles the TV show Grace and Frankie) .

The rechargeable Audéo M-R will be available in November along with the zinc air Audéo M-312, and Phonak will add the Audéo M-312T and Audéo M-13T in February 2019. A rechargeable version of Marvel with T-Coil (Audéo M-RT) and RogerDirect functionality will be available as a firmware upgrade in Fall 2019.

 References

This content was originally published here.

Widex and Sivantos Create WS Audiology—World’s Third-Largest Hearing Aid Company

Widex and Sivantos Create WS Audiology, World’s Third-Largest Hearing Aid Company
The ‘Big Six’ are Now the ‘Big Five’
Widex and Sivantos have completed their merger , creating a new global hearing aid company with a new name— WS Audiology . With combined revenues of EUR 1.7 billion ($1.9 billion USD) and more than 10,000 employees in 125 markets, WS Audiology is now the third-largest hearing aid company in the world.
Widex recently moved into new, “green” corporate offices that will now be the Denmark location of WS Audiology’s dual headquarters. The other HQ location is in Singapore.
Widex and Signia hearing aids will continue as the flagship brands of the merged holding company. Other WS Audiology brands include Rexton and Audio Service hearing aids and retail groups operating in North America, Europe and other markets.
A merger of equals
WS Audiology said a new combined corporate management team reflects “a balanced representation from both Sivantos and Widex.” Jørgen Jensen, until now CEO of Widex, will head the new company as Chief Executive Officer. Before joining Widex in 2013, he was CEO of Nilfisk-Advance. He previously worked for McKinsey. Wolfgang Ollig, former Sivantos CFO, will continue in the same position at the new company. Prior to joining Sivantos in 2016, he was CFO at Hella, a leading automotive supplier, and like Jensen started his career at McKinsey. Thomas Ebeling, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Sivantos, has been appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of WS Audiology. Jan Tøpholm, up to now Chairman of Widex, will take on the role as Deputy Chairman. Ignacio Martinez, to date CEO of Sivantos, will join the Board of Directors. Henrik Bender, until now CFO of Widex, will lead the integration process.
For now, WS Audiology will remain a privately held company owned by the Tøpholm and Westermann families and funds under the management of global investment firm EQT as well as the Strüngmann family.
Scaling up to compete
“This merger gives WS Audiology the scale and innovation capabilities…to excel with best-in-class products and accelerate our shared growth across all our brands ,” said WS Audiology CEO Jørgen Jensen.
But the company did not disclose plans for possible changes in management or operations, other than to say the strategy is to “accelerate its growth, strengthen its market penetration and enhance efficiencies to enable additional investments in R&D and the supply chain.”
The merged company, with dual headquarters in Denmark and Singapore, is now the third-largest supplier in an industry where only five companies currently command more than 80% of the global market for hearing aid s. Sonova Group (Phonak and Unitron hearing aids) and Demant A/S (Oticon hearing aids) are the two leaders, while GN Hearing (ReSound hearing aids) and Starkey Hearing Technologies fourth and fifth.
The “Big Five” are profitable global companies that compete intensively with each other to deliver more innovative hearing solutions at the premium end of the market. But they are under increasing pressure to offer lower-priced solutions to the hundreds of millions of consumers in the world with hearing loss who cannot afford hearing aids.
In the U.S., the recently passed OTC Hearing Aid Act will go into effect in 2020 and is designed to lower barriers the barriers to entry and encourage new companies to compete with much more affordable products . Subscribe for updates

This content was originally published here.

Bose wins FDA green light for first OTC hearing aid

The FDA has cleared its first over-the-counter hearing aid, developed by speaker manufacturer Bose, potentially opening the door for other consumer electronics companies.

The de novo clearance makes it the first hearing aid authorized by the agency that allows users to fit, program and control the device on their own, without help from a healthcare provider. The Bose Hearing Aid is a wireless amplifier placed in the ear canal that can be adjusted by the user through a smartphone app.

In its review, the FDA evaluated clinical study data from 125 patients that showed outcomes with self-fitting of the Bose Hearing Aid were mostly comparable to professional fittings of the same device, between the amount of amplification selected, speech-in-noise testing and overall benefits.

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In addition, when participants self-fit the hearing aid, they reported generally preferring their settings over professionally selected settings.

The agency describes hearing loss as a significant public health issue in an aging population and estimates that about 37.5 million adults have at least some trouble hearing.

Though users may fit, program and control the hearing aid on their own, the Framingham, Massachusetts-based Bose must comply with applicable federal and state laws regarding the sale of hearing aids, including state laws that might require hearing aids to be purchased from or dispensed by a licensed hearing aid dispenser, the FDA said.

The agency said it is working on proposing regulations for a new category of over-the-counter hearing aids, required by the latest reauthorization of the FDA’s user fee agreements passed last year.

“The FDA is committed to ensuring that individuals with hearing loss have options for taking an active role in their health care,” said Malvina Eydelman, M.D., director of the Division of Ophthalmic, and Ear, Nose and Throat Devices at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Bernstein’s Lisa Bedell Clive wrote in a note to investors that the Bose device may first be launched online, like how Walmart’s website sells FDA-approved hearing aids without an audiologist, but not in-store.

“In our view, how big of a threat the OTC channel will be to traditional hearing aid companies in part depends on the entrance of consumer electronics players, with their strong brands and significant marketing muscle,” Clive wrote. “It will be interesting to see if this is the first of a number of new entrants. For instance, we know Samsung has looked at hearing aids in the past.”

Following the news of Bose’s approval, the stocks of some of the largest international hearing aid manufacturers—Sonova, William Demant and GN Store Nord—each dropped about 10%.

This content was originally published here.

Bragi’s Project Ears is fusing wireless audio with hearing aids

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Bragi’s Project Ears is fusing wireless audio with hearing aids

Personalized audio enhancement for people with hearing-related issues.

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Bragi

Bragi’s appearance at this year’s CES isn’t about an updated pair of earbuds. At least, not yet. It’s taking its audio tech in a new, health-based direction, working with Mimi Hearing Technologies to create personalised hearing enhancement.

Both companies are working on a Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP) — backed with FDA approval. The rest of the details are still TBC, although according to Bragi, it will combine hearing enhancement with a design that’s similar to its Dash series of buds — in short, it’s not going to look like a hearing aid. The project was apparently inspired by one of Bragi’s early Kickstarter backers, who made a basic modification to the Dash to offer relief from tinnitus. The company now plans to combine its audio know-how with Mimi’s customized hearing test maps, resulting user-specific sound profiles and creating a refined solution for hearing issues like tinnitus.

Project Ears has already established a hearing test (in science terms, a “pure tone threshold test”) to create unique “Earprint”. Combined with with Mimi’s personalization tech, the hearing device will automatically configure and program itself to the individual without any need for manual programming or even a smartphone. According to Bragi, Project Ears will also test out personalized hearing enhancement in homes, offices, and outside work environments like construction sites. (That’s why there’s a picture of a builder up there at the top of this article — if you were wondering.)

Project Ears is posited as a way to help with hearing issues in an unobtrusive, subtle way that doesn’t involve often pricey medical tech. It’s certainly not the only company branching out in this direction. Many others are likely approaching assistive audio, after a bill to deregulate hearing aids was passed, opening up access (and hopefully reducing the price of entry) to hearing aid devices of all kinds. Bragi believes it’s nimble and small enough to beat bigger competition to the punch.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.

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Ammunition Designs Slick Hearing Aids For People Who Do

Can you hear me now? For many people, the answer is no. According to the Centers for Disease Control, hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition behind heart disease and arthritis. The National Institues of Health estimates that over 28.8 million adults could benefit from hearing aids but few actually use them due to cost, social stigma, and poor performance. EarGo, a tech startup, wants to enable more people to hear better, through design.

The Bay Area-based company recently launched the Eargo Plus, a direct-to-consumer hearing device that looks nothing like the clunky, robotic hearing aids of your grandparents’ generation. Instead of hanging over your ears, it sits inside the ear canal and is virtually invisible. The company hopes that its product will appeal to individuals in their 40s, 50s, and 60s–boomers and gen-Xers who aren’t in a rush to buy “geriatric” hearing aids, but whose lives could be improved by wearing them. Eargo is positioning itself as the hearing aid provider for people who don’t want hearing aids.

[Photo: courtesy Ammunition]

To create an appealing product for this demographic, Eargo founder Raphael Michel worked with the design consultancy Ammunition–best known for creating Beats by Dre’s headphones and branding, Lyft’s glowstache and glowstache replacement, and Square’s register–to rethink the device’s industrial design, user experience, customer service model, and branding, taking cues from consumer tech and e-commerce rather than the medical industrial complex.

[Photo: courtesy Ammunition]

Eargo is based on an idea Michel’s father–ear, nose, and throat surgeon Florent Michel–invented. The elder Michel practiced medicine for over 30 years and became frustrated by patients who experienced hearing loss, but declined his recommendations to buy hearing aids. He took his patients’ complaints and came up with a new concept: a tiny, in-ear design that doesn’t need to be professionally fitted.

The device looks more like a mascara wand or insect legs than a hearing aid. Florent Michel based the form on a fly-fishing hackle. Flexible, silicone fibers allow the Eargo to fit snugly in most ear canals and allow air and natural sound to pass through while amplifying some frequencies. A tiny transparent fiber lets users remove it easily. Other than that, there’s nothing outside of the ear canal–a good thing for users who don’t want the world to know they’re using a hearing aid.

Throughout the design, Raphael Michel and Ammunition tried to simplify as much as possible. There’s no on-off switch and the rechargeable battery is integrated with the product. To adjust the amplification level, users double tap their ears (the acoustic switch senses the rapid change in silence and noise).

[Photo: courtesy Ammunition]

Michel was confident that the product would work, but branding and marketing would have to do the heavy lifting for customers to take notice. The product had to be framed in the right way.

“We want people to look at technology as augmenting what they have rather than signaling that they are less that others,” Matt Rolandson, a partner at Ammunition, says. “It’s an augmentation of abilities, not fixing a disability.”

The language and vocabulary surrounding Eargo comes not from medical devices, but from consumer tech–Ammunition’s specialty. Much of the experience centers around the Eargo’s charger, which solves two of the biggest pain points with the product: making sure it has enough power (they need to be charged nightly).

“Many Eargo customers are older adults who, in addition to hearing loss, might also have reduced agility and impaired vision,” industrial designer Steve Lee says. “Throughout the design process, we needed to take this into careful consideration to make the product easy to handle and operate, especially in low-light environments.”

Ammunition designed the case to be a beautiful and desirable object. The charger is slim, contoured like a river rock, and has a soft-touch finish. Users place the devices in a cradle that is contoured like an ear–which maximizes airflow for drying after cleaning–and close the case to charge. Magnets keep the lid closed and make a satisfying snap sound when it closes. When the case is open, LED lights inside automatically turn on to make it easier for users to properly place the devices in the cradles, and easy to find when they need to take them out and use them.

[Photo: courtesy Ammunition]

Most hearing aids don’t have a brand associated with them, as they’re marketed to doctors. Eargo comes at a time where it’s now legal to sell hearing aids over the counter, and the experience of buying one had to address this fundamental shift in the technology.

The product comes in a white box that looks like it would be at home in an Apple Store, and it’s emblazoned with Eargo’s logo–a graphic Ammunition made by recording Florent Michel saying “Eargo” and visualizing the sound file. The goal was to give customers a positive association with the product and brand within the first 30 seconds of coming into contact with it.

When customers express interest in Eargo, the company sends a non-working version so that they can touch the flexible fibers on the hearing aid itself and become accustomed to the device. Once they buy one, they’re assigned to a specialist (at no additional cost) to guide them through the on-boarding process. Any questions users have can be sent directly to the same customer service representative over email, they can call the representative, and there are explanatory videos on the site.

The steady consumerization of health care has been happening for years. Instead of going to a physician for questions about ailments, there’s WebMD. Instead of waiting for an annual check-up to learn about your physical fitness, there’s a whole market of apps and trackers that can tell you your heart rate and blood pressure.

“Younger consumers–like gen X and baby boomers–are happening into their health; healthy isn’t happening to them,” Rolandson says. “The time of doctors delivering a course of treatment to a patient and expecting they’ll sit down and shut up is over.”

The venture capital community sees potential in this type of product positioning and approach. To date, Eargo has raised over $38 million in funding. Will it be as big a hit with consumers? The starting price is $1,999 a pair–still a pretty steep investment, though it is less than the average cost of hearing aids prescribed by professional audiologists, which is $4,200 per pair. An over-the-counter hearing aid might not be as affordable as, say, drugstore reading glasses, but Eargo believes it’s a key step toward giving people more control over their health.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Florent Michel was an audiologist; he is an ear, nose, and throat surgeon.

This content was originally published here.

Sarah Starkey: DRIVING SUCCESS AT AN AUTOMOTIVE DEALERSHIP

Since Sarah Starkey joined Larry H. Miller Dealerships eight years ago, the company has acquired and opened 35 dealerships – with Starkey providing the general counsel legal services encompassing mergers and acquisitions.

“I think it’s unique that I fully execute these transactions internally. These types of matters are typically handled by a large outside firm and simply managed in-house, rather than entirely executed by in-house counsel,” she says.

Starkey thoroughly enjoys each transaction and the opportunity to participate on the acquisitions team; and though you would think that keeps her busy enough, it’s just one aspect of her position as vice president and general counsel for the dealerships. As the corporate attorney, Starkey oversees all legal matters for Larry H. Miller Dealerships, which now includes more than 60 dealerships in seven western states.

In addition to acquisitions, Starkey handles risk management, state and federal sales and service compliance, development of standardized forms with strict regulatory compliance, development and maintenance of employment policies, manufacturer contracts, litigation, advertising and contract review, and employment and government relations. Additionally, she is recognized as an expert in governmental relations as related to franchise laws in the seven states in which the company holds an interest.

“I also oversee several non-legal departments. For example, I oversee the corporate customer relations department and assist with customers who have had a grievance with a dealership. By addressing and resolving customer concerns early and proactively we reduce the risk of consumer litigation. Our Customer Service Specialist works with customers to ensure we’ve addressed their experience, and they feel confident about doing business with us. Our vision is to be the best place in town to do business, and we hold ourselves to a high standard of customer excellence” she says.

Starkey began with the company as a staff attorney, moving into the role of general counsel three years ago. She was promoted to vice president in 2017.

“I like the diversity of matters my role provides in any given day – or even hour,” she says. “I have the opportunity to engage in a wide variety of legal and business issues. I’m always challenged; there’s never been a day in the past eight years that’s been mundane. There’s always something new to learn, which is the type of environment I thrive in,” she explains.

In addition to always keeping up with new laws and regulations, Starkey enjoys learning about the automotive industry.

“For example, I might have to learn about the installation and functionality of a rear differential so that I can provide legal advice and assist to resolve an issue or mitigate risk,” she explains.

LANDING IN THE AUTOMOTIVE FIELD

Although Starkey shares that she did not set out to work in the automotive field, it’s become a perfect fit.

She was always a motivated high-achiever, completing both college and law school in a scant four-and-a-half years. She graduated from the University of Utah in two-and-a-half years, and then attended the SCALE program, an accelerated legal program at Southwestern Law School in California, graduating summa cum laude.

She stayed in California after graduating, practicing law there for a number of years. When she was ready to move back to Utah, she saw Larry H. Miller Dealership’s job posting.

“I had no background in automotive at all,” she admits. “It was a new challenge, but one of the things that I think makes me successful is that I’m a quick study and I’m not afraid to ask questions. I’m a constant student. I thrive on that.”

“I really enjoy working at Larry H Miller Dealerships,” she continues. “It’s a family-owned business that grew from one store and it’s operated with the core values that Larry and Gail Miller established the company with – hard work, integrity, service and stewardship. Having all of those things is important to me, so finding it all in one place is ideal.”

Giving Back

As much as Sarah thrives at deftly handling multiple areas of the law, she also thrives on giving back to the community that has given her so much. She’s the immediate past president for Women Lawyers of Utah; is on the board of trustees for The Road Home; the board of trustees for the Girl Scouts of Utah, a board member for the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah; past committee member for the National Automobile Dealers Association; and chair of the Gail Miller Women’s Leadership Group, which she helped to establish in 2015.

“My mother instilled the importance of service when I was a child, so giving back is part of who I am. Thankfully, it is also a part of ‘Who We Are’ at Larry H. Miller Dealerships. I am always identifying opportunities to serve and for ways to make and use connections with organizations and business leaders to create positive experiences for underprivileged members in the community. It is very gratifying to lead projects and initiatives that affect positive change in my community and help individuals in need.

HOME SWEET HOME

When she’s not working or giving back in the community, Starkey spends time with her partner, Steven, 10-year-old Canyon Lynn, and their two giant schnauzers, affectionately referred to as The Muppet Twins. She enjoys cooking, spending time with friends and hosting parties. Her favorite pastime? Hiking.

“Utah is one of the most beautiful places on earth and it’s right in our backyard,” she says.

The post Sarah Starkey: DRIVING SUCCESS AT AN AUTOMOTIVE DEALERSHIP appeared first on Attorney at Law Magazine.

This content was originally published here.

Why I Finally Decided to Buy Hearing Aids and How I Decided on a Model

The damage is done

I recently learned that the average age of first-time hearing aid wearers is around 70. I’m a good deal younger than that, so how did I get here? While it’s impossible to know the exact cause, I blame most of my hearing loss on the insanely loud concerts I went to in my younger years. I also blame the noisy car I drove. The exhaust headers were so loud that I had to blast the radio just to hear the music over the sound of the car.

The problem with noise-induced hearing loss is that the damage is often done when you’re young and seemingly indestructible. By the time you realize what you’ve done, it’s too late. The only way to avoid permanent noise-induced hearing loss is to limit your exposure to excessively loud sounds, and to use sensible hearing protection when loud noise is unavoidable.

Noise-induced hearing loss sneaks up on you

Hearing loss creeps up on you. At first, you might notice a little more difficulty hearing in loud restaurants and other social settings. If your hearing loss progresses, you’ll eventually struggle to hear people clearly in everyday conversation. You’ll start asking people to repeat themselves more often, and you might start to blame poor room acoustics, or even accuse people of mumbling.  Eventually, you’ll need to come to terms with the problem and accept that your hearing isn’t what it used to be. Even then, you’ll probably try to avoid doing anything about it (like I did) until your friends and family discuss it with you (or perhaps even complain).

No motivation

Why do people delay addressing their hearing loss?  For my own part, I think I was just delaying the process of dealing with it. “I’m busy. I’m traveling. I just can’t fit it in just now. I’ll get going on it after our vacation.”  Literally years went by this way. I couldn’t find the motivation to get my hearing checked.

And this from a distance runner. Because I travel for work, I typically train for a race on three continents. Four AM wake-ups are not uncommon, and I’ve set the alarm for 3:30 multiple times to get my mileage in before work. I even split up a long run between Europe and America on the same day. Twice. And yet, I couldn’t find the time to address my hearing. Pathetic!

Ground zero

I finally decided to do something about my problem. First, I had to get a proper hearing check. I began by scheduling an appointment with a local ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. I did my homework by talking to some friends who had consulted an ENT and some who worked locally in the medical field. Most pointed to one person as being first-rate. I scheduled an appointment with him. With no indication of a medical condition needing treatment, he referred me to the on-staff audiologist for a thorough hearing test. The audiogram confirmed that I had a hearing loss, effectively telling me what I already knew.

Choices, Choices, Choices

After finally making the decision to deal with my hearing loss, my next big decision was what type of product to purchase.  Because I work for Knowles, a company that manufactures speakers (“receivers”) and microphones for consumer-grade earphones and hearing aids, I am very familiar with the spectrum of devices available to assist those suffering from hearing difficulties. The three primary categories of products I considered were 1) hearing aids, 2) personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), and 3) hearables. My first choice was to decide which type of device to purchase.

Hearables and PSAPs are less expensive options; they are intended for those with normal hearing who need situational assistance, but still feel they can hear well in less demanding conditions. From my own experience, I can tell you that the best of them are effective in cases like the loud restaurant scenario. Had such devices existed five years ago, they may have made more sense for me. In fact, I would say if I were using a hearable or PSAP back then I might have migrated to a true hearing aid sooner. But now it’s too late; my hearing issues are beyond “situational.”

There’s also the battery life issue with hearables. I need robust hearing assistance full-time, but no compact hearable can yet deliver 18 hours battery life. And then there’s the comfort issue. Hearables are fine to wear for a few hours, but for all-day comfort, nothing beats a modern hearing aid. Unfortunately, hearing aids do cost more, but I am fortunate in that I can make the investment. Had that not been the case, I might have gone the other way.

Selecting a hearing aid

After deciding to purchase hearing aids, I started doing my homework. I wanted to get a good handle on exactly what I needed – and wanted – from hearing aids.  In addition to general hearing aid functionality, hands-free phone call support and stereo music streaming seemed like must-haves; so did rechargeable batteries. OK, having rechargeable batteries wasn’t strictly necessary, but I really didn’t want to fiddle around with tiny button batteries. I also wanted to limit my negative environmental impact.

With more and more rechargeable hearing aid options on the market, finding decent rechargeable hearing aids wasn’t difficult. Finding good music streaming and phone-call handling proved a little more difficult, mostly due to my preference for Android over iOS. While Apple did a great service by creating their Made For iPhone (MFi) platform for hearing aids, that didn’t really help me. Had my hearing journey started sooner, I may have just abandoned my Android phone for an iPhone.

As it happens, a device that checks all my boxes just came on the market – the Phonak Marvel. Stereo audio streaming with Bluetooth Classic meant I could listen to music and other media from almost any Bluetooth-enabled device. I’m on the phone a lot, so hearing the person on the other end of the line in both ears seemed like a big plus. So too did the hands-free calling option. Prior to Marvel, there were literally zero options for hands-free calling (for any smartphone) without the added requirement of an intermediary accessory to pick up the hearing aid user’s voice. For serious music listening I’ll probably stick with my headphones, but even so, Marvel seemed like the device for me.

Scheduling my fitting

The beauty of today’s technology is that there are a number of excellent devices available depending your specific hearing loss, desired feature set, and budget. I told my audiologist about my preference to try the Marvel hearing aids, and as luck would have it, she thought I was a good audiological candidate for the devices. I was reassured when I learned that she had a lot of experience fitting Phonak hearing aids. I decided to stick with her, mostly due to her experience with Phonak, but also due to the reputation of the ENT’s practice. I scheduled the follow-up appointment to have the new hearing aids fitted.

My journey has begun

Now that my journey has begun, if there’s one thing I would say to others, it’s “Just do it.” I don’t even have my hearing aids yet, but I’m already getting excited for what’s coming. The other day, I was at a funeral service for a friend. A number of her family members spoke quite eloquently, but I was far enough back that I struggled to hear them. I was thinking to myself “Another week and I won’t have to put up with this anymore!” I’m also looking forward to test-driving them at our favorite Mexican restaurant and tequila bar, where I can never hear everyone at the table.

As I was leaving the doctor’s office, a funny thought crossed my mind. Taking out and putting on headphones is a deliberate act, but with my hearing aids on, I can fire up the music whenever I want and nobody will notice. Stigma? What stigma? These things are going to rock!

Disclaimer: I work for a company that supplies multiple industries, including the hearing healthcare industry, with hardware.  However, I am not personally involved in my company’s relationships with any hearing aid manufacturer.  All views and opinions expressed in this article are my own and based on my own experiences.

This content was originally published here.