By Gabrielle Filips
As professionals in the hearing health industry, our main goal is to ensure the best hearing experience possible for hearing aid wearers. That experience goes beyond the way wearers hear in their surroundings, and extends to how they handle and manage their hearing aids and hearing aid batteries. Currently, the percentage of hearing aid wearers who are discontent with battery functionality is alarming. In the 2010 MarkeTrak VIII survey, 45% of participants rated their hearing aid’s battery life as less than satisfactory.1
How do we resolve this concern? Fortunately, advancements in rechargeable battery technology are providing a powerful, user-friendly, and convenient alternative for powering today’s hearing devices.
Although rechargeable batteries aren’t new to the hearing aid scene, their success has been limited until recently. First introduced 30 years ago, rechargeable batteries weren’t initially widely adopted, as they were difficult to operate, cumbersome, and were perceived as less reliable than the zinc-air alternative. However, thanks to improvements in NiMH battery design, today’s rechargeable batteries offer improved power and smaller sizes to meet current cosmetic demands.
RECHARGEABLES MEET HEARING AID USERS’ UNIQUE NEEDS
Rechargeable batteries have become a mainstay for consumers. They use them in a myriad of portable devices, including mobile phones, cameras, and DVD players. Increasing awareness of the benefits associated with rechargeable batteries has spurred their adoption in many applications, including hearing aids
The benefits of rechargeable batteries for hearing aids include:
• Enhanced comfort and ease of use: Since the average age of hearing instrument wearers is 71 years,1 hearing aids need to be designed to accommodate the particular needs commonly found in that age group. Among these age-related complications are decreased dexterity and diseases that numb the fingertips, such as arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, and Parkinson’s disease. Such ailments can make opening battery packaging, accessing the battery compartment, and guiding the battery into place a very frustrating and even painful experience. For patients with such physical limitations, rechargeable batteries are an ideal solution, as they don’t need to deal with tiny batteries on a regular basis. Rechargeable hearing aids are simply placed into a charger at night, and in the morning they are ready for the day’s use.
• Eco-Friendly: Rechargeable batteries give hearing aid users a “greener” alternative to disposable batteries, which expose the environment to significant amounts of lead and acid. During a three-year time span, two digital hearing aids can use an average of more than 300 disposable hearing aid batteries. By contrast, within the same time span, two comparable hearing aids will use an average of only six rechargeable batteries.
• Cost-Efficient: Although the upfront cost of rechargeable batteries is greater than that of disposable batteries, over time, disposable batteries are likely to cost more than a rechargeable option. For example, a single zinc-air battery costs an average of $1. Assuming the typical binaural wearer changes the batteries once a week, costs may exceed $300 for a three-year period. A three-year supply of rechargeable batteries and one charging station costs less than $200
• Confidence: Hearing aid wearers often worry that their battery will die at an inconvenient time. Rechargeable batteries eliminate this cause for concern, as the power source is charged during the night and will last throughout the next day. Another advantage of rechargeable hearing aid batteries is that wearers don’t need to remember to purchase new ones or to remember where they put replacement batteries when they are needed.
• Flexibility: Today’s rechargeable hearing aids allow users to use both zinc-air and rechargeable batteries. This gives them the flexibility they need in circumstances when a disposable battery option is essential.
• Longevity: Zinc-air batteries can drain prematurely, if not properly sealed. On the other hand, rechargeable batteries are self-contained, sealed systems, which prolongs their shelf life and reliability. In addition, rechargeable batteries have been proven to better withstand severe conditions and climates.
CHARGING STATIONS HAVE IMPROVED
Today’s battery charging stations are designed to make the recharging process easy for hearing aid users. For example, they can offer the dual functionality of recharging the hearing aids while dehumidifying them with an electronic drying function, thereby helping prolong the life of the hearing aids. The instruments can simply be placed inside the charging cavities of the charging unit. The battery doors don’t need to be opened, nor do the batteries need to be removed. When a person places hearing aids inside the charging station, the base automatically detects the instruments. Once the hearing aids are detected, the charger turns them off automatically, eliminating any risk of feedback and ensuring an optimal charging process.
Chargers for reusable batteries can have modular designs that include an outer case and an insert. The insert differs based on the battery size, which allows professionals to stock a base and a few inserts to accommodate any instrument they may be fitting.
MEETING CONSUMER DEMAND
As hearing aids continue to evolve and perform more power-hungry functions, further technological development will be needed so that rechargeable batteries can offer more power in smaller designs. Conversely, hearing aid manufacturers need to be cognizant of developing products and accessories that consume less power and thereby increase battery life and reduce charging time.
The efficiency, usability, and power of a hearing aid battery can greatly affect an individual’s hearing experience. As hearing care providers learn more about the benefits of rechargeable batteries, more hearing aid users will be able to improve not only their hearing, but their lifestyle as well.
1. Kochkin S: MarkeTrak VIII: The Key Influencing Factors in Hearing Aid Purchase Intent. Hear Rev 2012;19(3):12-25.
Gabrielle Filips, AuD, is an Educational Specialist with Siemens Hearing Instruments. Dr. Filips joined Siemens in 2008 following 12 years in private practice. Her responsibilities include the training and education of staff and professionals on Siemens technology, services, and software. She is a member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the American Academy of Audiology.