Woman wearing hearing aids climbing hill with family and laughing at a joke.

Have you used your ear trumpet lately? No? You don’t have one? Because that technology is centuries old. Okay, I suppose that makes sense. Ear trumpets are a bit… antiquated.

The modern(ish) hearing aid, it turns out, was developed during the 1950s–the basic design, that is. And that old style hearing aid tends to be the one we generally remember and picture. But visualizing a hearing aid in this way isn’t realistic because those old hearing aids are out-dated technology. To understand just how much better modern hearing aids are, we have to unleash our imaginations.

The History of Hearing Aids

To be able to better comprehend just how advanced hearing aids have become, it’s helpful to have some context about where they started out. If we trace the history back far enough, you can most likely find some form of hearing assistance device as far back as the 1500s (whether any of them ever actually helped you improve your hearing is probably unlikely).

The “ear trumpet” was most likely the first partially useful hearing assistance mechanism. This device appeared to be a long trumpet. The wide end faced the world and the narrow end was oriented inside your ear. Today, you wouldn’t think of this device as high tech, but back then they actually give some help.

The real innovation came when electricity was invited to the party. In the 1950s the hearing aid as we know it was developed. In order to perform their function, they relied on large old fashioned style batteries and transistors in a fairly rudimentary design. But a hearing aid that could be easily worn and hidden began with these devices. The hearing aids of the 1950s may have looked comparable to modern hearing aids but the technology and functionality is worlds apart.

Modern Capabilities of Hearing Aids

Modern hearing aids are a technological masterpieces, to put it plainly. And they’re always improving. In numerous significant ways, modern hearing aids have been making use of the digital technology of the later part of the twentieth century. Power is the first and most crucial way. Earlier versions had batteries that had less power in a larger space than their present counterparts.

And with that greater power comes a long list of sophisticated developments:

  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss usually occurs as loss of specific wavelengths and frequencies of sound. Perhaps low frequency noise gets lost (or vice versa). Modern hearing aids can be programmed to boost only those sounds that you are unable to hear so well, resulting in a much more efficient hearing aid.
  • Speech recognition: The ultimate goal, for most hearing aid users, is to facilitate communication. Some hearing aids, then, have built-in speech recognition software designed to separate and boost voices mainly–from a packed restaurant to an echo-y meeting hall, this feature comes in handy in many scenarios.
  • Health monitoring: State-of-the-art Health monitoring software is also incorporated into modern hearing aid choices. For example, some hearing aids can recognize when you’ve had a fall. Other functions can count your steps or give you exercise motivation.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Your hearing aids are now able to communicate with other devices via wireless Bluetooth technology. This can be extremely useful every day. For example, hearing aids in the past had a tough time with phone calls because users would hear substantial (and sometimes unpleasant) feedback. When you connect to your phone using Bluetooth, the transition is simple and communication is effortless. You will also use Bluetooth connectivity to engage in a wide range of other electronic activities. Because there’s no feedback or interference, it’s easier to watch TV, listen to music–you name it.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids feel more comfortable because they are made of advanced materials. While these new materials enable hearing aids to be more comfortable, it also enables them to be more robust. And with the addition of long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but also the outside–of hearing aids have advanced over the years.

Just like rotary phones no longer represent long-distance communication, the hearing aids of old no longer capture what these devices are. Hearing aids have changed a lot. And we should be excited because they’re a lot better than they were.

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