Technology continues to change the way our world works, with new advancements becoming available every day. These tools aim to improve how we communicate, the efficiency of our interactions, and the products we use on a daily basis. The audiology industry is no exception, as the technology behind hearing devices, software, and customer relations evolves to better suit the individual needs of each person.
By adopting new and innovative technologies, audiologists hope to further enhance education, research methods, clinical practice, and overall results in the field. Some examples of recent innovations that have changed the industry include; Bluetooth technology, artificial intelligence (AI), rechargeable batteries, automatic translation services, and waterproof designs.
Developing technological advancements for hearing assistive devices allows those suffering from hearing loss to experience life to the fullest without missing the little moments. The following article explores the latest improvements in audiology technology and what it could mean for the future.
The Latest Developments in Audiology
Incorporating AI-powered algorithms into the design of hearing aids allows audiologists to not only build the best-sounding hearing aids but also track the overall health and wellness of users. Utilizing AI technology is one step being taken to improve the existing hearing ecosystems, while also working towards developing new ones.
The combination of AI, deep neural networks, and embedded sensors will allow users to have an effortless experience. This technology can also be effective in improving the entire performance of individual devices, allowing audiologists to gain better access to data and insights.
Amplification of Specific Bands
The ability to process different sounds is a key aspect of an effective hearing aid. One way these devices do this is by first initially receiving a specific sound, then sectioning it into individual bands of sound—known as channels—before it is digitized for amplification.
As part of the latest advancements in assistive devices, modern hearing aids provide better flexibility for amplifying channels. This allows users to adjust the different levels depending on their specific needs.
Compatibility with Bluetooth allows hearing aids to connect with other wireless devices, including cell phones. The integration of this technology into assistive devices has helped improve the signal-to-noise ratio, thus removing unnecessary feedback that used to be experienced through the microphone.
Similar to a fitness watch, some newer hearing aid models come equipped with advanced health and fitness-tracking features. In addition to monitoring things such as heart rate, this technology also tracks the user’s physical activity, sleep, and other health metrics that can be beneficial for optimizing the device’s performance.
These additional features also enable the user to have more control over their hearing health. They can be programmed to notify either the individual and/or their healthcare provider of any changes in their hearing. This empowers users to become more proactive about their health, and retroactively make any necessary changes.
Teleaudiology Remote Assessments and Consultations
Remote care (also known as teleaudiology) uses telecommunications technologies to support the administration of patient health care, education, and ongoing support. Although this remains a newer territory for conducting assessments and consultations, experts are hopeful about the potential it has to improve patient care.
Remote communication increases widespread access to proper clinical care, while simultaneously making the workflow more efficient and cost-effective for the audiologist. It is a win-win for both the patients and the clinical professionals providing care.
The cloud-based technology that allows these remote services to run will not replace the need for in-person appointments. Rather, the intent is for it to complement the time spent fine-tuning devices in-person with easily executable remote meetings.
Utilizing AI to Improve Diagnostics and Personalized Treatment
Artificial intelligence is believed to be the next step in hearing technology innovation. Audiology has been at the forefront of technological advancement for a long time. Hearing-assistive devices like cochlear implants and hearing aids not only impacted users but also provided insight into the possibilities for miniature technology.
AI is now taking things a step further by introducing devices that can perform important hearing-related tasks such as automatic speech recognition and natural language processing.
AI algorithms are also being used to optimize the programming of implanted devices (like cochlear implants) by allowing the electrical stimulation patterns to be tailored to each individual’s unique auditory needs. This can help improve both the overall performance of these devices, as well as the speech perception that typically happens as a result.
Patient treatment is also being impacted prior to diagnosis with the help of AI-driven systems. Instead of relying on responses from the patient themselves, these new technologies use objective data analysis—such as otoacoustic emissions and auditory brainstem responses—to provide a more accurate, individualized assessment. In addition to providing a more accurate diagnosis, this technology can help identify signs of hearing loss at an early stage, allowing for better intervention.
Anyone suffering from tinnitus—a condition characterized by the perception of ringing or buzzing in the ears—should be hopeful about AI intervention techniques. AI-powered applications are starting to be developed that will help individuals manage their symptoms, providing sound therapies designed to meet the patient’s specific needs.
Augmented Reality in Hearing Rehabilitation
The development of auditory skills is essential for adopting other fundamental processes, including socialization, communication, and personal interaction. In recent years, auditory experts have experimented with how effective augmented reality can be as a rehabilitation tool for those suffering from hearing loss. One mobile-based software used virtual reality alongside immersive technology to assist children experiencing hearing loss with necessary training and rehabilitation.
The technology allows users to interact with auditory stimuli in a controlled, simulated environment. To help overcome the difficulties initially faced by those suffering from hearing loss, over-the-counter amplification devices are being offered as support, including personal sound amplification products and wearable augmented reality devices.
Design and Functionality Improvements Utilizing Cochlear Implants
Cochlear implants are a very different hearing assistive device than hearing aids. Designed to bypass damaged portions of the ear, a cochlear implant provides direct stimulus to the auditory nerve. The implant then sends generated signals through the auditory nerve to the brain, which then registers this as sound.
Research is being conducted to improve the functionality of cochlear implants and the benefits they provide. One area of interest is in determining whether or not using a shortened electrode array, which would be inserted into a portion of the cochlea, would be effective for those suffering from hearing loss primarily at high frequencies.
There is also work being done to determine if a cochlear implant may work better when paired with a hearing aid device or another implant.
Biotechnology and Regenerative Medicine for Hearing Restoration
While there is a significant amount of work being put into supporting those suffering from hearing loss, there are some researchers who believe it can be prevented and/or reversed altogether.
The belief is that the damaged parts of the ear resulting in hearing loss can be regenerated. For example, hearing loss due to the death or damage of hair cells (often from exposure to excess noise) could be fixed through hair cell regeneration.
Another method, developed by the biotechnology company Frequency Therapeutics, seeks to reverse hearing loss through a new regenerative therapy focused on progenitor cells. The process uses small molecules to program progenitor cells—the stem cells that generate hair cells in utero—to create the tiny hair cells that allow us to hear.
The hope of biotechnology and regenerative medicine for hearing loss is to improve overall patient well-being and, hopefully, reverse hearing loss symptoms entirely.
The Future of Audiology
In many cases, audiology is at the forefront of technology innovation, developing micro-devices that will improve the quality of life for those suffering from hearing loss. Through various combinations of functional designs, innovative research, and advanced technology, the belief is that hearing loss will no longer be a barrier to enjoying a full and fulfilling life.