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May 12, 2004

Hearing Aids in the Digital Age

From: KLAS, NV - May 12, 2004

(May 12) -- Baby boomers are finding that years of rock 'n roll have taken a toll on their hearing. Fortunately, there are more options than ever. Eye on Health spoke with a local expert about the newest hearing aid devices.

Hearing aids have been evolving for decades, going from behind the ear, to in the ear and finally -- in the ear canal itself. Smaller is better, as far as appearance goes!

In the late 90's programmable devices could be modified as the patient's hearing gradually worsened. But they were limited in filtering out background noise. In the last few years, the digital hearing aid has arrived.

David Groom is a local hearing instrument specialist. Groom says, "That means it's like listening to the piano playing different chords. You can hear the melody much better. Now it's more crisp and cleaner. That's the basic difference in a layman's format, the difference between programmable and 100-percent digital technology."

Products from different companies have unique characteristics and they all compete to offer advantages. One high-definition digital device, developed by Widex, claims to contain the processing power of a desktop computer, with so-called directional intelligence. It's called the Senso DIVA.

DIVA turns sound into digital codes, splits them into 15 distinctive channels and reassembles them to make speech easier to understand, even in crowded rooms.

We may never be able to fully replace the quality of hearing that we were born with, though someday, we may come close -- thanks to miniaturization and free enterprise.

Groom says, "The nice thing about America is there's a lot of competition between the different manufacturers that make hearing instruments. And the spend a lot of money in research on developing an improving technology that will last and work better for people."

Most common causes of hearing loss include: over exposure to loud noise, genetics, or family history -- and an illness, such as allergies or ear infections. The cause may affect the type of hearing aid that helps best.

For some, the smallest hearing aids are not appropriate and bigger is better. On another note, a pair of high-end hearing aids can cost over $6,000.

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