Our ears might get “bigger” as we age, but they usually don’t get stronger. This is because as we get older, we lose the tiny hair cells inside them that transform sound waves into nerve signals that help us hear.
About 10 million Americans are hard of hearing, and while most are older than 65, hearing loss is something that can affect people of all ages.
While hearing aids can certainly be useful for turning up the volume, they’re not helpful in every situation, and they don’t really do anything for clarity. Fortunately, some amazing, new innovations could make the lives of the hearing impaired a lot easier!
What’s available now
Doorbells with visual alerts
Most of us take it for granted when somebody rings our doorbell and we hear a chime play throughout the house. But, if you’re hard of hearing, you might never know somebody is there.
Thankfully, Honeywell has solved this problem. The company makes a doorbell that will set off an ultra-bright LED strobe light when someone pushes the doorbell button and a 90-decibel chime, which has a muting option.
Smartphones can be super beneficial for aiding hearing loss as they offer several apps to help you navigate the world. These include:
- Sound Amplifier – In addition to enhancing and amplifying all sound, this Android app also augments the audio quality of the device when using headphones.
- Ava – In a group setting, it can be very difficult for the hard of hearing to follow along. This app uses a device’s microphone to transcribe the conversation.
- TapSOS – People who don’t hear well – or at all – can have real difficulty interacting with emergency personnel. This app allows them to do it in a nonverbal manner.
Exciting innovations are on the way
Glasses that allow you to read what people are saying
Several companies – including Google – are working on creating eyeglasses that will make it seem like you are in your own subtitled movie. The concept is this: An app on your phone will listen to a conversation you’re having and transcribe the speech. The text will then immediately go to your glasses, which you’ll be able to read thanks to augmented reality.
An added benefit (for anyone) is that these glasses could potentially be used with real-time translation apps, so people speaking different languages could communicate with one another.
Clear hearing in a crowd
If you have trouble hearing, you know how hard it can be to hear just one person when you are in a crowded or noisy environment. This is what scientists refer to as the “cocktail party problem,” and it’s the “number one complaint by hearing aid users or people with hearing loss in general,” says Fan-Gang Zeng, a professor of otolaryngology (head and neck specialty) at the University of California.
With a de-noising program, AI will be utilized to separate sounds. It would then isolate what you want to hear based on which way you’re facing, and lower the volume of everything else. You would get this sound through a hearing aid, cochlear implant, or earbuds.
Well, not exactly new ears, but new hair cells. While our ear hair cells don’t regenerate, researchers have discovered that birds’ can. Reptiles, fish, and amphibians can repair their hair cells, too. It’s because of this phenomenon that researchers are trying to create a drug that would enable us to regrow those valuable hair cells.
For anyone experiencing hearing loss due to missing or damaged hair cells, this development would be monumental. While this innovation probably won’t be available anytime soon – several companies are working on clinical trials – it’s exciting nonetheless.
Do you or someone you know suffer from hearing loss?
Going through life not being able to hear well can be frustrating, which is why it’s good to know that this problem is being addressed. If you have hearing issues, would you use any of these innovations? Let us know in the comments and share this article with those who would appreciate it.