Picture a hearing aid. You’re probably imagining an absurdly expensive device in a nondescript beige or grey that requires fiddling with tiny batteries and doesn’t do all that much for your hearing in some situations.
It’s little wonder that although half of all over-60s* have some form of hearing loss, 40 percent of the older Aussies who purchase hearing aids end up sticking them in a drawer. Many devices on the market are unattractive, hard to use, pricey, require multiple visits to a hearing clinic for set up and adjustment, and deliver disappointing hearing enhancement.
That’s a pretty awful state of affairs given how key hearing is to a meaningful life; conversations with loved ones, the tune of your favourite song, even the sound of birds singing in the morning are fundamental parts of everyday existence.
Fortunately, an innovative Australian company is making huge enhancements to hearing technology, so it’s worth taking a second look if you’ve put off getting a hearing test or given up using an old-fashioned hearing aid model.
Blamey Saunders Hears (BSH) was set up by Dr Elaine Saunders, an award-winning audiologist, and Professor Peter Blamey, a hearing scientist involved in the invention of the bionic ear, to fix what they saw as a broken industry that was failing to deliver what consumers need.
By investigating common consumer complaints, the Melbourne-based pair developed a series of hearing products and services designed to take the expense, discomfort and hassle out of obtaining hearing aids.
“Our focus is to make hearing health more affordable, more accessible, less stigmatised, more comfortable, and generally more acceptable for customers,” Prof Blamey told Starts at 60. “It’s all just a bit too difficult for hearing customers at the moment.”
Now you can test your hearing in the privacy of your own home
It’s important to treat hearing loss early to avoid secondary health impacts but, even though 50 percent of 60-pluses have some form of hearing loss, the average age of a person first accessing the government’s hearing services is 79. Living far from a hearing clinic, being housebound or having a busy lifestyle can get in the way of prioritising a hearing assessment.
To counteract this, BSH created the clinically validated online Speech Perception Test which can be taken at no cost, at any time convenient to you, through your smartphone, tablet or home computer. The test uses spoken words instead of machine-made beeps to generate an accurate report of your hearing levels. Of course, if you do have hearing loss, you should also see your medical specialist to rule out any underlying health conditions.
You cut thousands of dollars from the cost of a device
Prof Blamey notes that when he and Dr Saunders launched their company in 2011, the average price in Australia for a pair of high-end hearing aids was between $10,000 and $14,000 – a big cost for a 60-plus not eligible for the free aids available to full Age Pensioners through the government’s subsidised program.
In response, BSH came up with a business model that ensures that even their most affordable device offers a refined sound quality. The Symphony hearing aid, which is priced from $1,415 comes with sophisticated in-built environmental, wind and impulse noise management, and a high number of channels.
You have total control over your hearing aid settings
Most hearing aids on the market require repeat visits to a store or clinic to get the programming right. Too many people are left with unsuitable settings that fail to help them distinguish a speaker’s voice from background noise, and setting dissatisfaction is the number one reason hearing aids end up in the junk drawer.
To fix that problem, BSH invented software that allows customers to easily program and adjust hearing aid settings with an app on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer. While this is the preferred method of managing settings for some, others prefer to draw on Blamey Saunders’ teleaudiology team, which offers settings support over the phone or internet as part of your purchase.
Users can tune their acoustic settings as often as they like, to accommodate changes in their hearing, environments or comfort levels. This level of control has been clinically proven to Increase listener satisfaction meaning users are more likely to wear their hearing aids and experience the long-term benefits.
You can have the absolute latest in hearing technology
All hearing aids separate sound into parts called ‘channels’. A good way to think about this is how a piano has different keys that make different sounds. If a hearing aid has enough channels, it can separate the sound made by each key into a different channel, and do a better job of isolating out, and amplifying each sound for your individual needs.
The quality of a hearing aid doesn’t depend just on the number of channels (although this does help) – the quality of the underlying amplification technology is equally paramount.
Many hearing aids on the market use amplification technology called Wide Dynamic Range Compression (WDRC) while others use the newer Adaptive Dynamic Range Optimisation (ADRO) amplification technology which was invented in Melbourne for the bionic ear to improve sound quality, listening comfort, and speech understanding. ADRO outperforms WDRC in clinical trials when it comes to a user’s ability to detect sounds of various frequencies. 75 percent of users in trials also preferred the sound of ADRO to the WDRC they were accustomed to previously using.
BSH’s hearing aids employ amplifying technology called Sonite® which evolved from ADRO, so users are able to hear sounds as they exist across various frequencies, rather than a compressed, less realistic version of these sounds to improve sound quality, comfort and speech perception.
You never have to mess with costly, fiddly batteries again
When it comes to old-fashioned hearing aids, an exhausted battery means one of two things; the user has to crack open a multi-pack of expensive alkaline batteries and get to work fiddling around with small parts, or stop using the device altogether while the battery recharges.
Neither of these options inspire committed use of a hearing aid, as BSH recognised. In response, they created a modular hearing aid that streamlines the battery changing process.
Made up of two magnetically pairing parts, Facett uses a rechargeable battery module that ‘snaps’ off the hearing aid core, ready to be swapped with a set of battery modules kept ready-charged in a wireless charging case. Changing batteries is as simple as snapping the charged modules onto the hearing aid core and popping the exhausted battery modules into the case for recharging.
You can have a device worth showing off, not hiding in a drawer
Many 60-pluses worry that wearing a hearing aid makes them look old or unattractive. BSH’s newest Innovation is miles away in appearance from the bulky, flesh-coloured, behind-the-ear (BTE) devices still on the market. The look of the company’s Facett BTE device (more jewel-like, less medical) is the brainchild of designer Leah Heiss, who drew on the Melbourne Museum’s mineral collection as the inspiration for her faceted design that comes in matte black, gloss white, metallic silver and metallic rose gold.
*Information sourced from World Health Organisation at 25/11/18 from http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss
Have you tried any of the hearing devices on the market? What are some of the features you particularly look for in a hearing aid? Has anything put you off wearing one?