Hearing Aids and Artificial Intelligence

In Hearing Aid Technology, Hearing Aids by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Dr. Jennifer G. Mayer purchased South Shore Hearing Center in January 2016. She was born and raised in Swampscott, MA. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing in 1996 from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and her Master’s degree in audiology from the Northeastern University in 1998. Dr. Mayer fulfilled her Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY) in 1999 at Hear USA and Cape Cod Ear, Nose and Throat.
Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

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Millions of people all over the world suffer from hearing loss. When hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear, the condition can often be helped with hearing aids. Inner ear damage can’t be reversed, and this kind of hearing loss tends to be permanent. But hearing aids can help you regain a large amount of your ability to communicate and understand what’s going on around you.

With today’s technology, more and more hearing aids are being manufactured to utilize artificial intelligence. These advancements help to make the devices work more precisely and stay better tuned to the person’s needs.

The Basics of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss typically occurs on a gradual basis, so slowly that you might not notice it at first. When hearing loss does happen rapidly, it’s a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Some cases of hearing loss are caused by blockages in the middle ear that prevent sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Removing the blockage and repairing damaged tissue can usually cure or mostly restore the person’s hearing.

Most cases, though, occur when the inner ear becomes damaged. There are delicate hairs on the inner ear that vibrate when sound waves reach them. The vibrations create an electric pulse, which is sent to the brain. The brain then interprets this as sound. If the hairs are damaged, your ears won’t be able to accurately transmit sound waves.

Challenges of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss presents many unique challenges. They vary widely from person to person. The experience of hearing loss can range from mild to profound. People with severe and profound hearing loss tend to be significantly disabled, while people with mild hearing loss might just struggle to follow conversations in crowded rooms or talk on the phone.

Hearing loss can make you feel very isolated and frustrated, especially when it causes a breakdown in communication with the people who are important to you. Your romantic partner might become upset that you aren’t listening, and you might stop trying so hard to communicate. You might also withdraw from social situations because the stress of trying to navigate a chaotic conversation in a noisy place is too much.

Other challenges show up in the workplace. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you are entitled to workplace accommodations to help with hearing loss. But even so, people with untreated hearing loss tend to have lower productivity, and they’re more likely to be fired than people with hearing aids.

Artificial Intelligence in Hearing Aids

Artificial intelligence, commonly abbreviated AI, is an entire branch of computer science. It’s not all about making sentient robots or home assistants. The goal of AI is to create programs that can apply intelligent and multi-dimensional solutions to complicated problems. AI is most commonly used to process data and determine how to respond so that humans don’t have to individually comb through all the information.

Digital technology has been used in hearing aids since 1996, and it’s since become a staple in hearing aids at all price points. Now that AI software is being developed, there’s potential to integrate it into existing hearing aid technology.

One of the biggest problems for people with hearing loss is that background noises make it difficult to distinguish important sounds. Some hearing aids have been optimized to filter background noise and prioritize important sounds, but only in very limited conditions. For example, there are hearing aids that can amplify the closest voice to a person, whether or not that’s who the individual is speaking to.

Artificial intelligence software has the potential to be a game-changer because it can intuitively decide what sounds are “important” based on evolving knowledge instead of a static program.

How Hearing Aids Help

Hearing aids help by transmitting the data from the sound around you in a way that your brain can perceive. Your inner ear isn’t able to send full information through its natural vibrations, so your brain doesn’t interpret the electrical pulses correctly. In answer, hearing aids pick up sound through a microphone, encode it into electrical signals, and transmit those along your nerve so they bypass the faulty mechanism and reach your brain properly.