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Hearing aid technology constantly evolving
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Hearing aid technology constantly evolving

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Today’s hearing aids can stream music from your smartphone, create more natural sound and recognize when you’re in a busy restaurant.

Plus, you no longer have to fumble with tiny batteries if you don’t want to.

“They’re definitely more sophisticated now in noise management, noise suppression, and that will give you more distinct speech understanding and more clarity in the hearing device,” said Audiologist Blakely Ellis of Physicians Hearing Center.

The Dothan Eagle and Physicians Hearing Center are now accepting essays for the 2021 hearing aid contest. The winner or winners will receive free hearing aids. If you or someone you know needs hearing aids, simply submit a short essay to be considered for the contest. A free hearing test will be conducted to determine the level of hearing loss. Deadline for submissions is May 7.

The contest has been going on for around 20 years, and last year six Wiregrass residents received new hearing aids.

In the past, hearing aids had more of a “tunnel” hearing approach, Ellis said, with sound filtered into the device.

“Now they have more of an open soundscape more like a natural, normal hearing ear hears,” she said. “So you hear all around you to give your brain more information to put everything together. I think the important thing to remember is it’s not your ears that hear; it’s really your brain that hears. The newer technology is working with your brain as well to give you more concise information to make things more distinct and it protects speech better.”

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Some devices have even been developed with deep neural networks to recognize sound “scenes” – a busy restaurant, streets, a church or even a quiet library. The devices identify different settings and balance sounds so that the user hears what’s most important, such as a conversation.

For many people, simply changing the small disposable batteries is the biggest challenge with hearing aids.

“But now they have a rechargeable feature so that helps with dexterity,” Ellis said. “Sometimes it’s difficult for people to change batteries when they’re very small. Also, you charge them every night just kind of the same way you would charge your cell phone. So, the rechargeable option makes things a little bit more efficient. You’re not always carrying batteries around with you and you know that you have a reliable charge that will last you at least 20 hours every day.”

When it’s time for the rechargeable battery to be replaced, it can be done by an audiologist, Ellis said.

Pretty much all hearing devices regardless of price range are Bluetooth compatible these days. But, Ellis said, now there are more devices that stream directly to Android phones as well as iPhones. And you can stream any audio connected to your phone directly to your hearing aids – whether it’s a phone conversation or a selection of music. With sound streaming straight to both devices, you get better sound quality when talking on a cell phone.

“You always hear better with both ears rather than just one ear, so sometimes the phone is hard for people with hearing loss,” Ellis said.

Those who don’t feel technologically savvy shouldn’t be intimidated about pairing hearing devices to a phone, Ellis said. The audiologists can set things up for you.

“I think a lot of them are even surprised sometimes at how easy it is to use … once it’s connected up and they see the added benefit from it,” she said.

Peggy Ussery is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at aussery@dothaneagle.com or 334-712-7963. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.

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