Woman wearing hearing aids climbing hill with family and laughing at a joke.

Have you utilized your ear trumpet lately? No? You don’t have one? Because that technology is centuries old. Okay, I suppose that makes sense. Ear trumpets are a bit… archaic.

The fundamental shape of the modern hearing aid was developed in the 1950s. And that old style hearing aid is generally the one we remember and picture. But thinking of a hearing aid in this way isn’t realistic because those old hearing aids are antiquated technology. We need to really expand our thinking if we want to recognize how much more advanced modern hearing aids are.

The History of Hearing Aids

It’s worthwhile to have some perspective about where hearing aids started in order to better perceive how advanced they have become. If we follow the history back far enough, you can likely find some form of hearing assistance device as far back as the 1500s (though, there’s no evidence that these wooden, ear-shaped artifacts actually worked).

The first moderately successful hearing assistance device was probably the ear trumpet. This construct was shaped like, well, a long trumpet. The wide end faced the world and the small end was directed inside your ear. At present, you wouldn’t think of this device as high tech, but back then they actually provided some assistance.

The real innovation came once electricity was invited to the party. The hearing aid as we now know it was essentially developed in the 1950s. They were quite rudimentary, relying on transistors and large, antiquated batteries to get the job done. But these gadgets represent the birth of a hearing aid that could easily be worn and hidden. The hearing aids of the 1950s may have looked similar to modern hearing aids but the technology and functionality is worlds apart.

Hearing Aid’s Modern Features

Modern hearing aids are a technological masterpieces, to put it bluntly. And they continue making improvements. In numerous profound ways, modern hearing aids have been making use of the digital technology of the later twentieth century. Power is the first and most important way. Modern hearing aids can store considerably more power into a much smaller area than their earlier forerunners.

And a number of innovative developments come with increased power:

  • Selective amplification: Hearing loss doesn’t manifest across all frequencies and wavelengths equally. Perhaps low frequency sound is hard to hear (or vice versa). Contemporary hearing aids can be programmed to amplify only those sounds that you can’t hear very well, producing a much more effective hearing aid.
  • Construction: Modern hearing aids are usually made of advanced materials, so they feel more comfortable. While these new materials allow hearing aids to be more comfortable, it also allows them to be more heavy-duty. And by adding long-lasting, rechargeable batteries, it’s easy to see how not just the inside–but the outside–of hearing aids have advanced over the years.
  • Speech recognition: For many hearing aid users, the ultimate goal of these devices is to facilitate communication. Some hearing aids, then, have built-in speech recognition software created to separate and amplify voices primarily–which can be very useful in a wide range of scenarios, from a crowded restaurant to an echo-y meeting room.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Contemporary hearing aids can now connect to all of your Bluetooth devices. You will use this feature every day. Older hearing aids, for instance, would have irritating feedback when you would try to talk on the phone. When you connect to your phone using Bluetooth, the transition is simple and communication is easy. This is true for a wide variety of other scenarios regarding electronic devices. Because there’s no feedback or interference, it’s easier to watch TV, listen to music–you name it.
  • Health monitoring: Modern hearing aids are also able to incorporate advanced health monitoring software into their options. if you fall, for example, some hearing aids can detect that. Other functions can count your steps or give you exercise motivation.

The older style hearing aids no longer represent what hearing aids are, in the same way as rotary phones no longer capture what long distance communication looks like. Hearing aids aren’t what they once were. And that’s a positive thing–because now they’re even better.

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