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  • Writer's pictureDavid Engelman

Which Hearing Aid is Best? Hearing Aid Technology Levels Explained

Updated: Jan 22

Computer chip, similar to what would be in a hearing aid

The previous article in our series entitled "Which Hearing Aid is Best?" looked at considering the type of hearing aid style that will work best for you. In this article, we will now look at the technology level of the hearing aid. Nowadays, just about all hearing aids are digital, and they have computer chips built into them that make use of complex signal processing algorithms to analyse all the sound that enters the hearing aid. For example, when you leave your quiet house and walk into the noisier street, and then into a busy shop, the hearing aid recognises these changes in your environment and will automatically adapt how the sounds around you are processed. The higher the level of technology, the better the hearing aid will be at doing this. Your audiologist will also have more tools at their disposal to better fine tune and adjust the settings on your hearing aids for optimal benefit. The goal is to maximise your ability to hear and understand speech, while also allowing you to catch the full scape of sounds around you, whether that’s a bird chirping, or a car passing by and sounding its horn. While background noises can be distracting at times, it is also important to realise that a hearing aid will not eliminate these, as this would not provide you with a normal sensation of hearing. Rather, it is about achieving a delicate balance between ensuring you have access to as much sound as possible, as well as ensuring you can communicate with other people with as little effort and strain as possible. This balance will usually be more easily achieved with higher levels of technology.

What exactly is a hearing aid technology level?

Hearing aid manufacturers will release their hearing aids on a new “platform” or “generation” of technology every couple of years or so. This platform will often be first released to their receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids, and then gradually rolled out to the rest of their hearing aid models, such as the in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids. This technology platform may represent a new computer chip that has a suite of new features to better support hearing aid users in various environments. Within this overall platform, there will then be various levels of technology, ranging from more “basic” or “essential” to more “advanced” or “premium”. Generally, each hearing aid model within a given platform will be released with anywhere from three to five different levels of technology. These hearing aids will look physically identical to each other, but it’s the technology that is built inside the hearing aid that differs.

Confused yet? To make this a bit clearer, I will use a fictional example to illustrate the above a little better. Let’s say there is a hearing aid manufacturer named Cheer Ear. Cheer Ear have been producing hearing aids for several decades and are constantly developing their technology. They have most recently produced a line of hearing aids on the Sweet Sounds platform. The Sweet Sounds platform has featured a revolutionary hearing aid chip and processing algorithm that has allowed their hearing aid users significantly greater ability to hear and understand conversations in background noise, in comparison to their previous platform, called Love 2 Listen. The Sweet Sounds platform is now available in Cheer Ear’s RIC hearing aids and will be rolled out to their ITEs over the next year. Each hearing aid on the Sweet Sounds platform is also available in three different levels of technology. The highest level is called Sweet Sounds A (which Cheer Ear abbreviate to SSA). The middle level is Sweet Sounds B (SSB), and the most basic level is Sweet Sounds C (SSC). While SSA, SSB, and SSC all make use of the new Sweet Sounds algorithms, SSA will be able to maximise the benefits of the new chip to the full extent, while the features and abilities in SSB and SSC will be a bit “scaled down” in comparison, with SSC being the most scaled down version.

How do I know what level of technology is right for me?

Now it may seem obvious that the most advanced level of technology would always be preferable, and generally yes, this would be the case. However, the higher levels of technology also command a higher price, and it may not make sense for everyone to choose the absolute most advanced, and consequently most expensive, level of technology for their hearing aid. To help you understand this a bit better, I would like to introduce you to three different fictional people: Richard, Margaret, and Brian.

Meet Richard

Man who works and leads active lifestyle, needs advanced hearing aids

Richard lives with his wife Susan, and has a grown son, Mark, who lives a few miles away, and is married with a four-year-old daughter. Richard works in a busy office heading the finance department for a medium sized company. His working day includes a mix of larger and smaller meetings, as well as frequent video conferences and calls. Richard generally hears well when meeting colleagues and employees one-on-one but has been finding that the larger meetings have become a bit of a struggle recently. After work, Richard will sometimes join a few of his colleagues for a drink in the crowded pub down the road. He often really feels lost when at the pub and can feel embarrassed when he struggles to keep up with hearing the conversation and after-work banter. When Friday evening comes around, Richard will often enjoy attending the theatre with Susan, which will sometimes be followed by dinner in a nice restaurant. He usually feels he can hear well in the theatre, although does at times miss some of the dialogue. He’s become increasingly picky about which restaurants to go to, as he finds it can be almost impossible to hear Susan in certain places. During the day over the weekend, Richard may spend some time on his own tending to the garden, or Mark will come over with his family for a visit. While he can hear his son and daughter-in-law well, he’s noticed that he struggles to catch what his granddaughter says. It’s probably clear that Richard is in quite a few different environments over the course of a typical week, some of which have become very challenging to hear in. If Richard is considering hearing aids, he would most likely do best with the highest level of technology available, as this will provide him with the most benefit in the many situations that he finds himself in.

Meet Margaret

Woman who lead moderately active lifestyle, moderately advanced hearing aids will suit her best

Now let’s have a look at Richard’s next-door neighbour, Margaret. Margaret has retired from her career in nursing almost twenty years ago now. She lives with her husband, George, and their pet cat named Whiskers, that they adopted a few years ago. She has a son and a daughter that have both moved abroad, and whom have two teenage children each themselves. Margaret will usually spend much of the day at home with George but does have a once weekly coffee meeting with a few friends at a nearby café. Depending on how busy the café is, Margaret has noticed that she has been struggling more to stay involved with the conversation, which has been making her feel a bit sad. Back at home, Margaret will often misunderstand what George has said to her, and it’s been getting to the point where there’s been some friction between them. Watching TV has become a challenge as well, with everything sounding unclear and garbled, even when the volume is quite high. Margaret and George used to travel regularly overseas to see their children and grandchildren but in recent years this has become more difficult. Her children will now usually try to visit with their families twice a year, during Christmas and the summer holidays. While it is lovely to be with all the family at once, all the noise and multiple conversations can be overwhelming, and Margaret often feels like it’d be easier to just retreat rather than try to participate. Looking at these various situations, both over an average week, and over a full year, I’d consider that the environments that Margaret is in to be moderately varied. If she is considering hearing aids and would like to hear at her best in all environments, it may be worth considering the highest level of technology. However, as her day-to-day situations are not overly varied, she may find the mid-level technology to suit her needs well enough, and that the higher price of the more advanced hearing aids wouldn’t really be justifiable for her.

Meet Brian

Elderly man who lives a less varied lifestyle, basic hearing aids will suit him well

There’s just one more person to meet. That’s Brian, who lives across the road from Richard and Margaret. Brian lives on his own but has a carer, Jess, who comes to help him for a few hours a day. Brian’s wife passed away a few years ago, and he has long ago retired from his career in the civil service. Unfortunately, his health isn’t what it used to be, and he isn’t able to get out and about as much as he’d like. He spends most of the week at home, although his daughter, Laura, who lives nearby, comes over every weekend to visit. They sometimes will go outside and sit in the garden with a cup of tea or go for a short walk around the neighbourhood. Both Jess and Laura must speak quite loudly and slowly for Brian to hear them, and even then, communication can be a struggle. Brian enjoys watching TV programmes that he remembers from when he was younger, but the volume needs to be very high, and the neighbours have started to complain. When attending doctor visits, Jess must relay all the information back to Brian, as he is usually unable to catch what the doctors say. Day-to-day, Brian is either on his own, or having a conversation with just one or two other people, in quiet surroundings. His environments aren’t very varied, and therefore, when considering a hearing aid, a more basic level of technology would probably suit him well.

A few more things to consider...

I hope the above examples illustrate how one may go about selecting a technology level for their hearing aids. An audiological consultation will usually include a discussion of the kinds of places and situations you typically find yourself in, which can help the audiologist make an appropriate recommendation for you.

A few caveats, though, to mention regarding hearing aid technology level. Firstly, no matter how advanced a hearing aid is, it cannot restore your hearing to a completely “normal” level. There will always be situations that you may find challenging to hear and communicate in, even with hearing aids. This is for several different reasons that are beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to realise that a hearing aid is exactly that—an aid, rather than a complete cure or remedy. Secondly, it is important to be honest with yourself about the kinds of environments you’re typically in, as well as the kinds of environments you’d like to be in. While it may be tempting to choose the less expensive option, you may be limiting the amount of benefit you could be getting. One also needs to recognise if they find themselves in less varied situations because of general lifestyle and preference, or because they feel hindered by their hearing loss in more complex environments, and therefore avoid these places. If it is the latter, then higher level technology may be a wiser choice for you, to allow you to enjoy different places and settings to the full extent that you’d really like. These are all things that need to be considered and discussed with both your audiologist and your loved ones.

If you'd like to learn more about the kind of hearing care we provide for our patients at Finchley Hearing, please explore our website and feel free to get in touch with any questions.

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