Body Level Hearing Aid || Hearing Aids: Within the Sound of Silence


Body Level Hearing Aid

Our ability to hear and process different sounds is a natural endowment. Ears help us identify objects, persons, and other entities in ways that eyes cannot; in a way, ears function as our second pair of eyes. Undoubtedly, the sense of hearing is nothing short of a privilege, but unfortunately this privilege is not enjoyed by everyone, which is why hearing aids command a high degree of importance in today’s world. However, before delving into the details regarding the prevalence of hearing disorders, it would be pertinent to understand the how these wonderful devices came into being.

Tracing the Origins of Hearing Aids

The historical moorings of Hearing Aids can be traced way back to the mid-16th century when the Italian physician Girolama Cardano first proposed the idea of how sound can be transmitted to the ear by utilizing a shaft of a spear, placing it between a person’s teeth. After him, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, multiple efforts were taken in the US and Europe to create technologies for the betterment of the hearing impaired. In 1670-71, the British academic Samuel Moreland invented a large speaking trumpet made of glass. Later, in 1757, an heaelderly German merchant by the name of Jorrison rediscovered Cardano’s bone conduction-based hearing aids. It was a fortuitous discovery as he had mistakenly placed the pipe in his mouth on the harpsichord he was listening and realized that he could listen to sound of the instrument perfectly clearly. The high point came in 1808 when the German inventor Johann Nepomuk Mälzel began designing ear trumpets and ended up making several of them for the famed musician Ludwig van Beethoven, helping him compose his signature symphonies. Another key development during this period was the establishment of institutions in the form of schools, colleges, and universities for the deaf. For instance, Abbé Charles Michel de l’Épée set up the first public school for the deaf in Paris in 1755, while the first school for deaf-mutes in Britain was founded by Thomas Braidwood in 1760 Edinburgh. Significant progress has been achieved in the 20th century, starting with the launch of the Acousticon, a body worn hearing device developed by Hutchison Acoustic Co., in 1903. Solid efforts have been made since then and hearing aids technology has been put into a continuous phase of evolution and the 21st century does not seem be holding back.

So What Prospects Does the 21st Century Hold for Hearing Aids?

The dawn of the 21st century brings glad tidings for those suffering from hearing disorders. From rudimentary hearing aids prototypes of the 17th and 18th centuries, companies in this ultra-modern era are exploiting existing technologies and developing new ones in the field of otology. For instance, in January 2020, the Swiss hearing care solutions provider Sonova Holding developed the world’s first Bluetooth-enabled hearing device under its brand Phonak. Named Naída Marvel (M), the device is engineered to help persons having severe-to-profound hearing loss. Furthermore, the machine can be connected to any device with Bluetooth, including smartphones, TVs, and computers, and is designed to provide powerful sound to the user. Another excellent example in this context is the Livio Edge AI by Starkey. In February 2020, the US-based hearing aids manufacturer Starkey Hearing Technologies announced the launch of its revolutionary hearing aids solution called Livio Edge AI. As the name suggests, the product combines the powers of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and sensor technology to deliver superior sound quality to the user. Double tapping the device would activate the AI-powered analysis of the immediate surroundings and help the user make the necessary adjustments. A similar creation was introduced by the Singapore-based hearing aids major Signia unveiled its Signia Xperience platform, comprising of hearing aids devices that are empowered by acoustic motion sensors and a built-in motion sensor. Combined, this army of sensors would learn the user’s movements and deliver the highest quality sound emanating from any direction. Efficient use of modern technology cannot be better exemplified than the above examples of innovation, which are ameliorating the pangs of the vulnerable.

The Close Linkage Between Ageing and Hearing Loss

Loss of hearing is a tragic development in anyone’s life and unfortunately, a substantial chunk of the world population is in the grip of this tragedy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 466 million people worldwide are currently suffering from hearing disability; of these, nearly 34 million are children. Even more astounding is the WHO projection that more than 900 million people will be disabled as a result of hearing loss by 2050. What’s more, close to 1.1 billion people are at risk of losing their sense of hearing due to their proximity to noise pollution sources, the WHO observes. From an economic standpoint, hearing disability leads to losses worth USD 750 billion annually. 

While uncontrollable factors such as infectious diseases, ear infections, protracted exposure to loud noise, and genetics are playing a central role, a vital factor perpetuating disabilities related to hearing is that of ageing. Demographic analysis conducted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) found that the number of persons aged 60 years and above will reach 2.1 billion in 2050, with the elderly slated to outnumber children below 10 years of age by 2030. More significantly, the DESA shares, the number of individuals at and above 80 years of age will increase by 300% between 2017 and 2050, globally. Clearly, ageing and hearing loss are close interrelated and reinforce each other, creating a vicious cycle of inevitability.

Are Governments Doing Anything? 

Age-related hearing loss is inescapable, but the suffering it causes can be reduced through definitive efforts, particularly if they are initiated at the governmental level. The key takeaway is that governments need to take decisive social welfare measures to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable sections of society from disorders and diseases that are preventable. . In 2008, the EU launched the AHEAD III, a 3-year coordination program, to tackle the issue of age related hearing disability. Having a funding of €1.1 million, the project was aimed at establishing screening procedures across the EU, determining how the tests need to be carried, and recommending governments on how the program can executed at the national level. Developing countries such as India are not far behind. In 2006, the Government of India launched the National Program for Prevention and Control of Deafness under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The program was fully sponsored by the Central Government and formed an essential component of the 11th and 12th Five Year Plans. Some of the major objectives of the program include prevention of hearing loss on account of injury or disease, rehabilitation of people suffering from deafness, and effective diagnosis and treatment of hearing disabilities, among others. While the initiative is laudable, high population economies suffer from shoddy implementation of programs and schemes aimed at socio-economic welfare. More concerted efforts at the institutional level are the need of the hour if the goal of inclusive economic growth is to be attained.