Winning the War Against Hearing Loss: Part 1 of 10

What a world! The nightly news programs hammer us with an endless stream of ugliness. But, for all the bad news that is reported, I believe there is an equal amount of good news, even if not all of it gets into the media.

The good news often tells the stories of medical miracles: People without legs get new ones. People with bad hearts get replacements. The list goes on and on. Almost every day we hear about some incredible high-tech breakthrough that saves a life or restores a person’s ability to support their family.  So, while we live in a time of unprecedented ugliness, we also live in a time of full-blown miracles.

This is the first in a series of ten articles on wonderful news for people with hearing loss and those who treat them. I am going to look at the huge changes in our field that have taken place in just the past 15 years or so. For example, consider the elimination of background noise. The recent integration of this technology into hearing aids is a modern miracle. People’s lives are changing–not slightly, not moderately, but tremendously.

To put the magnitude of these advances in perspective, let me tell you about my left eye. A couple of years ago I was having trouble seeing. It was difficult for me to drive. I couldn’t read the road signs on the freeway. Then, I had cataract surgery. It was a miracle! Suddenly, I could see beautifully!

The surgeon’s talent and the marked improvement in implantable lens technology changed my life. This change was not minor. It was huge! The surgery enhanced my life dramatically.

It is changes of this magnitude—in short, miracles—that I will talk about in this series of articles.

 

TECHNOLOGY PLUS TALENT CAN WORK MIRACLES

Each miracle has two parts. In the case of my cataract surgery, the two parts were the surgeon’s talent and the improvement in lens technology.

In this series about miracles in audiology, each story will have two parts: a dramatic improvement in technology and the talent that enables the hearing aid professional to unleash the full potential of the technologic advance. Together, these two parts work miracles for the people, such as Kim and David, Dr. Judy and Sam, that I will be telling you about.

I am going to discuss numerous technical topics, including: signal detection, speech intelligibility, feedback cancellation, high-fidelity audio, real-ear mechanics, artificial intelligence, software development, miniaturization, and brain plasticity. Each story will involve a patient whose life was made better as a result of one such technology coming to fruition.

The concepts behind these technologic advances are not new; most were understood sixty years ago. However, it took decades for these concepts to mature and integrate, and then for electronic miniaturization and digital processing to advance to the point that they could apply the concepts in affordable hearing aids.

I want to divide hearing aid history into two eras: what has happened recently, and what happened in the past, before the advent of advanced digital signal processing instruments. I’ll use the year 2000 as a rough dividing line between “recent” history and “the past.”

Since the beginning of the new millennium we have seen vast improvements in hearing aid technology. Prior to 2000, the hard-of-hearing people in my stories would not have been able to hear well enough to work effectively, even using the state-of-the-art hearing aids of that time. Now, in 2015, their hearing aids do allow them to hear well. Much has changed.

When we finish this series of post, I want you not only to believe in miracles, I want you to understand how and why they are possible.

See you next time.

 

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