The New Year gives us all a chance to reflect on where we’ve come from and look ahead to where we’re going.
In recent years, I’ve been astonished by the forward strides we’ve taken in the world of hearing health: aids have shrunk to the size of acorns; tests have become more nuanced than ever; and perhaps most importantly of all, our society is becoming more aware of hearing health.
The pace of change looks set to continue in 2019 so I’ve taken it upon myself to highlight the 6 hearing trends I expect to see emerge over the coming year – and the size of impact I image they’ll have.
1. Noise-cancelling headphones
Unlike normal headphones, these models create a sound wave that cancels out any ambient noise, meaning you no longer have to turn up the volume to compensate for background noise.
A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones can block out a massive 80 decibels of background noise. To put that in context, this means a freight train could drive right past you and the only thing you’d notice would be the wind blowing in your hair.
If you’re still not convinced, I recommend you take a look at this graph. It shows that turning your headphones down just 10 or 20 decibels could make a huge difference to your long-term hearing health. Noise-cancelling headphones let you do this without compromising your enjoyment.
Hearing impact – 8/10. As prices come down, I think noise-cancellers will stop being just an audiophile product and become the mainstream choice for anyone who cares about their hearing.
2. Digital ear mapping
The shape of your ear is as unique as your fingerprint. In recent years, hearing aid and earplug manufacturers have used this fact to create custom-moulded products with a more comfortable fit, better sound quality and incredibly discrete designs.
Until recently however, there was a dark lining to this silver cloud. The traditional way of creating a custom mould involved filling your ear with silicone, waiting for it to set, then physically removing it. As you can imagine, this isn’t the most pleasant experience. It also limited how deep the impression could go.
But thanks to the invention of digital ear scanning, we can now accurately map the unique contours of your entire ear with absolutely no discomfort whatsoever.
Hearing impact – 6/10. Sevenoaks Hearing are one of the first clinics in the UK to offer this service – and having spoken with our customers, it’s a big step forward in terms of their experience.
3. Hearing health and the Life Course Perspective
As awareness of hearing health becomes more widespread, I’ve seen a huge change in the mindset of our clients. Fewer people now tell me their partner sent them and many more have identified the issue themselves – and have the confidence to actively seek treatment.
This change is also being reflected in how we, as hearing professionals, think about hearing health. In a great article called Rethinking Hearing by Kelly Trembely, she talks about something called The Life Course Perspective.
This approach to healthcare goes beyond the old problem-and-solution way of thinking. It recognises that health issues are actually deeply embedded in our behaviour, decision making and psychology. In other words, health issues aren’t simply something to be cured – they’re a significant part of what makes us, us
Hearing impact – 7/10. This might be a slow burner but The Life Course Perspective is already established in eye care, which has used this way of thinking to turn glasses into fashionable high-street accessories. Which leads us neatly onto our next trend for 2019…
4. Over-the-counter hearing aids
For many people, their first pair of glasses are bought over the counter to resolve a mild loss of eyesight. Currently, there is no such equivalent for mild hearing loss. However, as hearing technology has advanced and becomes more cost-effective, it’s now a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ a viable over-the-counter option will appear.
Interestingly, it may not be the traditional hearing aid manufacturers who are first to market with such a product. Over 100 million ‘wearable devices’ such as FitBits, smart watches and smart glasses were sold in 2018.
The trend in wearables for healthcare is predicted to grow massively, so it could easily be a tech company or headphone maker who gets there first by integrating a simple hearing aid into a stylish over-the-counter product. The race is on…
Hearing impact – 9/10. It’s a market worth millions and will take hearing health mainstream. Will 2019 be the year? Who knows. If it isn’t this year, it won’t be far away.
5. Hearing aids become more than hearing aids
A new hearing aid, the Starkey Livio AI, shows us where hearing aids might be heading in the near future. This particular model features Artificial Intelligence which tracks your physical and cognitive health. Equally interesting, it’s also the first hearing aid to include Amazon Alexa connectivity.
Products like Alexa and Google Echo, which turn the internet from primarily a visual medium into an auditory one, are a major trend in technology at the moment. It isn’t such a leap of the imagination to think a mobile version of this technology would be a huge hit – and hearing aid manufacturers are in prime position to be a frontrunner in the marketplace.
Hearing impact – 6/10. I’m scoring this one a little low for now, as I think it will be a few years until we see aids like the Starkey Livio AI go mainstream. However, if you’re interested to know more, we are one of the first clinics in the UK to offer this model.
6. 5G hearing aids
The UK’s largest mobile phone company, EE, recently announced that it will start upgrading its network from 4G to 5G in 2019. Without getting too technical, this basically means mobile phones will be able to access the internet a lot faster and more securely.
What has this got to do with hearing aids? Well, as manufacturers release smarter devices with diverse features, like the Livio AI mentioned above, they’ll use mobile phone networks to send information to and from the hearing aid.
Currently, there are limitations on what manufacturers can do with hearing aids, but the advent of 5G will open up a world of new possibilities.
Hearing impact – 6/10. As above, I think 5G hearing aids won’t go mainstream this year. That said, I’m intrigued to see what innovations do come to the marketplace this year that use this technology – as that will give us a clue as to what’s around the corner.
Whatever lies in store for 2019, we won’t have to wait long for our first glimpse of the year’s big innovations. The major hearing aid manufacturers will all be showing their latest products at CES – the world’s biggest technology fair – between the 8th and 11th of January.
I think it’s also worth noting that, while we’re always interested to see where hearing technology is headed, we’re also circumspect when it comes to new innovations. Our customers’ requirements always come first and we only recommend hearing aids with additional bells and whistles if a client requires them and feels comfortable using these features.
About Sevenoaks Hearing
At Sevenoaks Hearing, we provide a bespoke hearing service, using state-of-the-art technology to provide an accurate diagnosis and an effective solution. As we are independent of any manufacturer, we can also provide the best solution for your lifestyle. Find out about our hearing assessments and other treatment services.
Written by Matt Cannon, Lead Audiologist at Sevenoaks Hearing. Visit our independent hearing centres in Sevenoaks, Banstead and East Grinstead or book an appointment now.