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August 18, 2004

Big Advances In Hearing Aid Technology

From: CBS New York, NY - Aug 18, 2004

NEW YORK (CBS) Researchers are making major breakthroughs in hearing aid technology, improving hearing and also the appearance of the devices.

CBS 2's Dr. David Marks reports.

Forty-something David Buksbaum is looking forward to replacing his two hearing aids with a less conspicuous device. "We all want to put our best foot forward and want people to think we are in the best of health."

"The RetroX device will help David hear and understand more, yet it won't be seen, hidden behind the ear. It's one of several new hearing systems that don't block the ear canal, like traditional, exposed hearing aids," explains Dr. Jack Wazen, adding "Vanity is still a major deterrent to the use of hearing aids."

So research is underway, says Dr. Wazen, chief of neurotology for Lenox Hill Hospital, to make smaller and smaller hearing devices for beauty-conscious baby boomers experiencing early on-set hearing loss.

"There is a stigma that if you wear a hearing aid you are not up to par," Dr. Wazen says.

But statistics show more than 16 million baby boomers are suffering from some degree of hearing loss, a much higher rate than previous generations.

"I started saying 'what' and would you repeat that," recalls Melody James, 57, who never expected to be wearing two hearing aids at this age. "I went to a lot of rock concerts for years and over time, it did damage."

But her digital hearing aids don't fully restore her hearing. "I think the biggest dilemma is that they are not perfect."

Experts say but the latest hearing advances will fully restore hearing.

Take this Cyborg looking device: hidden under the hair, the Baha hearing aid snaps into the scalp. Transmitting sound via the inner ear, it provides patients with severe hearing loss in one ear, normal hearing.

"There are so many solutions for hearing impairness and for deafness, to walk around profoundly impaired or deaf is a matter of personal choice," Dr. Wazen says.

Hearing aids may soon be a thing of the past. This is the first completely implantable hearing restoration system, currently being studied for those suffering from mild sensorineural hearing loss.

"I think we are a few years to having it available to the public at large but it is happening," Dr. Wazen says.

There's only one hitch with all of these advances: none are cheap or covered by insurance.

(MMIV, CBS Broadcasting Inc., All Rights Reserved.)