The sense of Hearing is important in such that it creates a link to our physical and social environment. Hearing is assured by an extremely complex and sophisticated ensemble of physical structures that we regroup in what we call the auditory system. The complexity of this system is such that it has only been a few decade, for example, that we have started to understand how the hair cells function in the cochlea.
Different factors may reduce the efficiency and the integrity of the auditory system. Among the most common factors is the aging process, noise exposure, pathologies that affect the middle ear, Ménière’s disease, genetic and congenital causes, etc. There are as many different causes of auditory dysfunctions as there are different medical or surgical solutions. If you notice a change in your hearing, it is important to first talk to your family doctor or see an E.N.T. specialist. (a medical doctor who specializes in the ear, nose and throat).
However, when no medical or surgical solution is possible, or when damage to hearing is permanent – the greatest symptom being the incapacity or the difficulty in hearing soft sounds- , different devices such as hearing aids, amplified telephone, infrared systems and other assistive hearing devices are available to improve the quality of communication and reduce the handicap caused by hearing loss.
The hearing aid, a flexible solution adapted to the hearing loss.
A hearing aid is basically a miniature electronic device that amplify the inaudible or soft sounds which go otherwise unheard or misunderstood by a person who suffers from hearing loss. This devices requires a custom fit in order to match the auditory, cognitive, psychological and physical profile of the person needing hearing assistance. The fitting process, which affects various aspects ranging from the shape of the device, its power and acoustic signatures, the way the technology processes sounds, etc, is provided in Quebec by a single professional, the Hearing Aid Acousticians.
Different technologies available for hearing aids
When it comes to technology, we refer to the electronic circuit which is located inside the hearing aid and is used to treat the signal that will be heard. Thus, the first type of technology still frequently encountered, and which is available since the 50s, is analog technology. It has benefited from many improvements, particularly in terms of miniaturization of hearing aids, which enable continuous improvement in sound quality.
Moreover, from the late 90s, a completely new and different type of electronic circuit appeared. These circuits process sounds digitally. Because the sound is processed by a computer, this type of circuit allows great flexibility and new opportunities in the way we can manage sounds. These new circuits adapt the resulting sound in function of the changing conditions of the environment.
The following table shows the various categories of hearing aids currently available for the hearing impaired. It is important to note that the category of fully digital hearing aids include a wide range of products, from basic to higher end. The more advanced ones having more advanced features.
In all cases, it important to discuss with your hearing-aid acoustician in order to assess the type of technology within the hearing aid that will best suit your needs.
Table 1 : Different categories of hearing aids
|Non-programmable||Analog potentiometer||Digital potentiometer|
|Programmable||Programmable analog||Fully digital|
Different models of hearing aids
Hearing aids come in different shapes and sizes. The place it is worn will dictate its type. Among the most frequently encountered, there is the hearing aid that is worn behind the ear. They are called BTE devices. Traditionally more powerful, BTEs are now available in formats that are miniature and very discreet which makes them very much appreciated by first time wearers. There are also hearing aids that are worn in the ear and that are available in different formats ranging from the bigger full shell type to the smaller canal type which is inserted completely in the ear canal.
In all cases, the choice for the most appropriate format must take into consideration several criteria such as the degree of the hearing loss, the type of deafness, ease of handling, maintenance, desired aesthetics, etc. The selection process is done through active collaboration between the patient and the hearing-aid acoustician. Your hearing-aid acoustician is the professional best qualified to help guide you in making the right choice.