I have heard this complaint many times over my 15-year career as an audiologist. People will say things like, “I love my hearing aids in most situations, but when I’m in a noisy environment like a restaurant I have difficulty understanding the voice in front of me because of the surrounding background noise.”
The sophistication of hearing aids has increased dramatically over time, especially in this area. Originally, the microphone of a hearing aid was omni directional which means it would pick up everything around them equally, making it extremely difficult to understand speech in noise. Then hearing aids advanced to having directional microphones which allowed the patient to push a button on their hearing aid when they were in noisy environments, and that would give priority to the voices in front of them and less behind them. This was a significant improvement in one’s ability to hear in a noisy environment, but it was still difficult because the patient had to remember to switch their programs properly which wasn’t ideal for all listening environments.
Today’s hearing aid technology is impressive, as it will automatically activate directional microphones while adapting to locate and reduce the loudest noise source in the listening area. Better yet, these hearing aids are constantly monitoring and manipulating the parameters of sound in real-world listening environments, and they automatically select the best settings to maximize hearing performance so that the patient doesn’t have to.
Today’s latest hearing aids will also automatically adjust for seven unique sound classes:
Just as a person with normal hearing never thinks about his or her listening environment, hearing aid users today should never have to worry about adjusting his or her hearing aid. Simply put them on in the morning and forget about them. In contrast to the feedback I used to get, today the most common response I get from patients is more like, “Yes it is a noisy world, but I don’t have difficulty following conversations in those environments.”
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