Only 25% of Americans who need hearing aids actually have them. There are any number of reasons, including cost and to many, denial. As Samuel Trychin notes in an article titled "Why don't people who need them get hearing aids, "There may be vehement, emotional denial when the issue of possible hearing loss is raised as in, "There's nothing wrong with my hearing; you mumble." Others avoid them out of fear that they make them look old.
I used to say exactly that about mumblers; my daughter turned it into an art form. Then, two years ago, I got a hearing aids that connected to my phone through an intermediate device called a streamer. When I drive or ride my bike, Google Maps is inside my head. I feel sorry for people who don't have a volume control for their head or a great built-in invisible bluetooth headphone set. But to get all that goodness I have had to wear that annoying boxy thing around my neck that connected as a conventional Bluetooth device, and it had a lot of limitations.
After CES I wrote about the Resound LiNX hearing aids, that did all this and more, connecting directly to the iPhone without the streamer. Resound was kind enough to lend me a pair, which I have been wearing for the last two weeks. In short, they are going to change the way people think about hearing aids.
Apple bakes it into the iOS
Resound was the first company to work with Apple on new bluetooth technology that works without draining the hearing aid batteries too quickly, and is tied into an iOS setting panel that you call up by pressing the home button three times. This controls the volume and lets you stream anything from the phone to the units. Each unit connects separately to the iPhone so there is a lot more flexibility.
When I first put them on and tried to listen to music or watch a video, I found the sound quality a bit tinny compared to headphones or speakers. However iOS7 has a sort of secret equalizer in settings>music where I clicked on the bass booster and it sounded much better. Once I got used to it and watched a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones on my iPad, I came to find the sound better than any other source, since they are programmed by audiologists to my exact hearing loss profile.
Then you get into the real fun when you start playing with the app. I own an iPhone 4S, which isn't supported, so I loaded the app into my iPad, and couldn't try out all the features. However I could switch between normal and restaurant settings, which focus the reception forward and cut out ambient noise. I could adjust the treble and bass (with more control than the iOS equalizer). With the phone, you can create different settings for wherever you hang out and it will use the GPS in the phone to change automatically when you get there. You can stick your phone on a table in front of the person you are talking to, or in the middle of conference table, and turn it into a microphone so that you can hear better. It will even help you find your LiNX when you misplace them.
There are a few minor disadvantages to having just the phone and not the streamer interface that I now use. You have to use the iPhone as your mic when you are on the phone, and you have to dig it out to change any settings; with the streamer, I can hit a button and have Siri do my dialling. However, everyone is used to seeing people playing with their phones and sometimes give me weird looks when I am talking into this thing around my neck. Adjusting settings on your phone looks a lot more normal, for people who are shy about their hearing aids.
They need a better name for these things.
I also wish the app offered more control like a better equalizer instead of just a treble and bass slide like my old stereo. I wish it could tune out specific annoying sounds like my barking dog. Most of all, I wish there was a better name for these things. They are not just hearing aids; they are truly wearable technology connecting me to everything audible on the internet. They are more like an iPhone accessory than anything else. They are a valuable work tool as I am wired into my computer. They are an entertainment device as my movies and music go straight into my head in a way that is much better than headphones ever were.
After two weeks wearing these, I am really sorry to have to give them up. I can barely tell that I am wearing them, and I love the direct connection to the iPhone without that thing around my neck, constantly reminding me that I actually do have hearing aids. I can do things that people just relying on their ears can't. They also sound terrific.
Instead of putting off buying hearing aids (people usually dawdle for a median of three years before they do it) people should be lining up for these things, it is a whole new world of connectivity. Apple may be hot for Dr. Dre and his headphones, but their work with Resound addresses a much bigger market with a lot more money. Instead of hearing aid denial and fear, we are going to soon see envy.
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