By Gabrielle Filips, AuD, originally published 12/25/2012

Gabrielle Filips, AuD

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.

 

Rechargeable Hearing Aids Meet User’s 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,1hearing 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.

 

Hearing Aid 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.

 

Rechargeable Batteries for Hearing Aid Meet Consumer Demands  

 

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.

 

References

1. Kochkin S: MarkeTrak VIII: The Key Influencing Factors in Hearing Aid Purchase Intent. Hear Rev 2012;19(3):12-25.

 

Gabrielle FilipsAuD, 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.

Originally published April 18, 2017.  You start with a cage containing four monkeys, and inside the cage you hang a banana on a string, and then you place a set of stairs under the banana.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana. You then spray ALL the monkeys with cold water.  After a while, another monkey makes an attempt. As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray ALL the monkeys with cold water. 

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. 

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. ALL of the other monkeys beat on him.  After another attempt and attack, he seems to know that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted. 

Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment – with enthusiasm – because he is now part of the “team.” 

Then, replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, followed by the fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. 

Now, the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. 

Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. 

Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the Banana. 

Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been! (see at Disgruntled Millennial on Facebook)

 

I’ll bet you’re wondering, “What the heck does this story have to do with Audiology?” 

Since I have some space left and you may still be reading, let’s start with why significant innovation is almost always disruptive.  I dislike the term “herd mentality”, but it seems appropriate in light of many examples.  People act like they do in many situations because others act that way too.  Whenever a new approach pops up, they get agitated because “that’s not the way to do it”, or “that’s not how I was trained”.  They react accordingly.

This barrier to abrupt change happens often in politics—recent events and observations support that conclusion.  It certainly happens in medicine and healthcare.  In support, I recommend Elisabeth Rosenthal’s book An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back, Penguin Press, New York, 2017.  And it surely is also happening in audiology, as evidenced by the thoughts and opinions of many regarding the FTC and over-the-counter hearing devices.

For years, the hearing aid industry has attempted to get more people aware of and interested in hearing aids.  They (we) reach fewer than 25% of hearing impaired people who would likely benefit from hearings aids.  For years, we couldn’t get better “penetration”, to use a peculiar concept that would seem to imply that our industry is “dull”.  And, for those many years, we did not change our approaches all that much.

Now, along come the Feds and their data-driven ideas, testimony from “outside” organizations, regulations, and maybe even laws, which they propose would allow for more people to get device help for their impaired hearing.  And, many audiologists and dispensers don’t like that.

What’s the matter?  Can’t audiology and dispensers justify their position in health care?  Are we afraid of what might happen?  After all, we put ourselves in this position.  Don’t audiologists have anything to offer in this proposed new scenario?  Or will we respond by shouting “it’s not like it always has been”?

Dr. Rosenthal’s mission, stated in her epilogue, should be echoed in the goals of every health care provider, including audiologists: “…to advocate for a return to a system of affordable, evidence-based, patient-centered care.” 

I hope that you will consider reading Rosenthal’s book.  I hope you will take some lessons from it.  I think these might top the list:

  1. Understand who has “skin in the game”.
  2. Be prepared to change.
  3. Follow the data/facts.
  4. Realize that all of us might have been “sprayed”.

feature image from monkey worlds