Many people when they think of hearing aids they think of the large band aid colored devices that go behind the ear connected to a large earmold that fills the whole ear. Some even remember the large body worn aids that had wires that connected to the earpiece. These aids often squealed and their sound quality was not spectacular. Ever since the first portable hearing aid in the early 1900s, that weighed around 7 pounds, technology has been progressing towards smaller aids with better sound quality. These improvements have accelerated over the last couple of decades since the invention of digital hearing aids. While there are still varying sizes and styles of hearing aids, most are discreet models that tuck neatly behind the ear and blend with the hair color. It is not uncommon for a new hearing aid wearer to comment that no one even notices them.
As technology has advanced the hearing aids have improved in their ability to deal with background noise. Directional microphones allow the aids to focus forward to reduce what is coming from behind, and many hearing aids now communicate with each other through a magnetic field around the head that allows them to work together as a unit, instead of working independently from each other. This allows the aids to give better information to the brain and even reduce wind noise, which can sound like someone blowing into a microphone. Some of the newest aids now monitor the environment 100 times per second to help the aids distinguish between speech and background noise. As long as the aids are adjusted correctly all of these things help to produce a more natural sound for the wearer, even when they are in a difficult listening situation.
There are also different accessories that can be used with the hearing aids. Most can connect to cell phones through a Bluetooth device, and some can connect directly to an IPhone without any extra devices. Bluetooth also can be connected to a device that will allow the patient to listen to TV at a comfortable level for everyone else, or they can even listen with the TV muted. Another option is a lapel microphone that can be given to a loved one in very difficult environments, or put on the podium when listening to a speaker in a lecture hall.
In short, hearing aids are not only better looking, but they have a much better ability to help people communicate, even in difficult settings, than they did just a few years ago.