How About A Sport Hearing Aid?

I love thinking about new features for hearing aids. OK — I guess that makes me a little bit weird, but when something is such an important lifeline to communication, it is probably worth thinking about from time to time. A few months ago I wrote a blog post detailing some ideas I had for improving today’s hearing aids. These included:

  1. Have sound recognition: I’m not sure if that is a real term, but what I mean is that the hearing aid could be taught to identify the specific sounds or voices that are most important to you. For example, you could use a wand or app to record your family members’ voices, and the hearing aid would then know that these were critical sounds for you to hear. Right now most hearing aids are only programmable by frequency. Programming by “sound” could be much more accurate.
  2. Identify sounds to avoid: Part two of the sound recognition described above would allow you to teach your hearing aid sounds you want to avoid, like the sound of your air conditioner or refrigerator. This could help alleviate the issue of amplification of all sounds rather than just the important ones.
  3. Have a mute button: Wouldn’t it be nice to turn the sound off every once in a while without having to remove the aids?
  4. Send low battery alert emails: Even my Fitbit sends me an email, when the battery is running low, so it can’t be that hard. This way we could avoid the need to swap batteries on the fly or during an important meeting.
  5. Be directional: I would like to be able to adjust the hearing aid’s microphone to highlight sounds coming from a certain direction or area of the room. This would help in meetings and at restaurants. Ideally, this would be controlled through a wand or smartphone app.

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Coming Out of My Hearing Loss Closet

I grew up the child of someone with hearing loss. I knew it in a peripheral way — my father wore hearing aids, but they were never seen — always hidden by sideburns grown long for that purpose. He never discussed his hearing loss and went out of his way to hide it. I remember social gatherings where he would disappear only to be found sitting at a table in the corner alone. I always wondered why, but now I know, because I have hearing loss too.

As a child, my hearing was fine, but when I first had trouble hearing in my mid-twenties at business school, I hid it, following my father’s example. I even refused to wear my first pair of hearing aids, afraid someone might see them. I felt embarrassed. I am not sure why. Was it a learned response from watching my father, or was it something larger — a stigma associated with hearing loss that I wanted to avoid? In any event, my mother’s reaction was not encouraging. “Do you really need to wear them?” she asked me.

Eventually, the answer became yes, I really did need to wear them, but I still avoided them as much as possible. I would sneak my hearing aids in on my way to work, wear them all day hidden behind my long hair, and whip them out as soon as possible at the end of the workday. I hated my hearing aids and only wore them when I absolutely needed to, and never socially or with my family. Continue reading