Earlier in 2021
When this article was first written, in January 2021, we felt that there was no room for guesstimations when dictating what 2021 would look like in the industry. The pressures of fulfilling consumer satisfaction, in a fast-paced world, were climbing and warranted a quick response. COVID taught us many things, but this industry had to be quick in offering solutions to the needs of those with hearing loss and adapting to the pandemic climate. It had to be ready.
New advances in hearing aid technology
When people predict how any industry is going to move forward it is no easy feat. The hearing aid industry is no different. The rate at which digital hearing aid technology has advanced over the last few years has given rise to increased competition within the industry itself. Inspiring consumers to want, need and expect more from these devices.
Although hearing aids still consist of four main parts - processor, receiver, power circuitry and microphone - it is no secret that hearing aid technology has advanced significantly over the last few decades. Said microphone retrieves the sound you hear and travels to the processor which amplifies the signal and transmits it to the receiver and finally the ear canal.
The power circuitry steers the system. This power and technology can be either innovative or basic - whichever it is it's always determined by the processor. Today's modern hearing aids give consumers far more than those of the past and have switched to almost complete automation and features that support hearing loss needs in all environments.
New developments in hearing aid technology
It has been hard to bring a complete perspective on how we feel audiology will rise to demands for this year and onwards - especially how we have had to regroup as an industry to tackle the restrictions COVID threw at us. Yet we have managed and most would say thrive, as well as still maintaining technology advancement for the premium hearing experience.
However, as consumer trends started to emerge in early 2021 - this industry showed dedication to keeping pace and keeping up, as it continues to move with the times and address those individual consumer needs. Audiology, being a heavily respected industry, that always took a proactive approach in all areas - learned how to be reactive as new features emerged to help those with hearing loss in a new unpredictable way of life.
An unforgiving pandemic
The audiology world witnessed how unforgiving the pandemic was for those with hearing loss – causing new problems for hearing aid users to overcome. We saw how masks muffled speech and took away vital speech and visual cues, as well as hearing aids falling off by mask straps.
Various PPE manufacturers reacted to the problem and designed masks with clear screens, while others created masks that had straps to tie at the back of the head, so hearing aids stayed as secure and comfortable as possible.
The rise of the features & apps
The most impressive responses to COVID were from the hearing aid manufacturers themselves. For instance, Signia reacted quickly and provided real-time hearing solutions with their ‘Mask Mode’ – a unique program within their app that boosted the frequencies that are muffled by a mask and can be turned on when needed. A quick fix for new hearing challenges and one we know, from our patients, had given hearing aid wearers back their confidence and independence in the PPE times.
Starkey followed suit and offered their consumers additional features in their Livio AI ‘Edge Mode’. Delivering an on-demand speech audibility boost with just a tap of your hearing aids and automatic optimisation for social distancing and background noise. This healthable hearing aid’s Thrive app – especially the ‘Fall Detection and Alerts’ feature – gave peace of mind to family members during the pandemic.
'Peace of mind' will never be overrated again
Smartphone apps have always been popular, but due to the pandemic, they have been an essential resource for those with hearing loss. Knowing loved ones are safe, using remote technology and artificial intelligence, was priceless to those who were unable to see them physically. We feel that this will influence future hearing aid apps and features, even as we overcome the wave of COVID and the industry reflects the consumer’s forever-changing expectations.
Artificial intelligence gets a makeover
Artificial intelligence isn't anything new in hearing aids, but it's having a makeover and will up its game this year and beyond. There a few hearing aids today, like Starkey's Edge, that include AI - tapping into deep neural networks (as seen in Oticon More) to innovatively process sound. The clever nature of this technology accesses your volume control settings and program specifications for relevant soundscape environments.
It can then adjust automatically when a particular environment is detected without you having to control how you hear sound and what to focus on. In short, the AI within deep neural networks mirrors how your brain would naturally respond and hear the sounds if you had 'normal' hearing. We are excited to see how the future of this specific technology plays out and evolves over time.
Hearing aid technology future
The pandemic also taught us to prioritise and change how we connect with friends, family and work colleagues. When connection and feeling connected were needed more than ever, we looked to digital tools and remote care, as we accessed virtual resources and tapped into virtual hearing healthcare. We believe this will only increase as we see a widening attraction in consumers wanting more flexibility and control with their hearing – a level to match that of eyecare.
On a similar note, quick and fast connectivity is always going to be on a consumer’s tick list. The hearing aid users of today are tech-savvy and want their devices to match their active lifestyles and connectivity needs. Everyone and everything is connected and accessible at the touch of a button and, in most cases, directly and seamlessly.
Electronic devices are constantly getting faster, better, more efficient. As well as living in a world when passive content consumption is the norm - consumers like managing their life via Bluetooth technology. This is sure to pave the way for Bluetooth advancement, as well as a huge boom in the accessory and consumable market for 2021 and onwards.
“Recently, the boundaries between the earphone industry and the hearing aid market have become slightly distorted, with brands such as Apple and Bose building hearing functionalities into their devices (e.g. Airpod pro has inbuilt hearing benefits). I think that the hearcare and audiology industry are likely to return the favour in the not-too-distant future, leveraging recognised brands from their sectors to demonstrate how we (as audiology professionals) can also provide exceptional sound quality - with great design”
Lewis Chisnall - Business Development Manager at Signia UK
The legacy of Bluetooth hearing aid technology has been evolving for years and has revolutionised the way people with hearing loss experience everyday life. In years to come, it will continue to empower this community even more and promote a new way of interacting with more assistive hearing features, enhanced sound quality, low-energy consumption, the pairing of voice-assistant accessories and uber-fast multi-stream connectivity.
With the push for better and more relative hearing aid apps and telehealth, consumers have acknowledged, understand and, more importantly, wanted to micro-manage the everyday wearing of their hearing aids remotely. Knowing the market is abundant with options, we may see this flexible control stretch to an increased attraction for online hearing device sales and tele audiology.
2021 is more eco-conscious
Our attitude towards the environment is shifting. It is a positive leap in the right direction, as we become more sensitive to the environment each year. We are reacting to world problems such as climate change and extinction rebellion and making more conscious decisions. The increased news exposure on this topic has promoted the thought process of changing the way we dispose of certain products.
There has been a definitive shift in the way we want to live our lives, as we take stock and look at more rechargeability options. A future that is eco-smart and thoughtful, with fewer batteries going into our landfills. In a world where convenience is key, we don’t think the consumer attraction for this will change as portable recharging pods continue to become smaller providing nifty on-the-go charging.
The importance of today's audiologist
One of the many things we have learned over these last couple of years is how important the role of the audiologist still is. How quickly they have adapted to the pandemic climate and how proactive they have been with how they manage and undertake their services - always putting the patient's first - either in person or remotely.
However, in times of isolation and an increase in digital communication, patients have valued seeing their trusted audiologist face to face where possible - especially when restrictions started to ease. In most cases, we have seen it has been a lifeline for patients having the convenience of a home visit and the support of services being available to them.
Our opinion has always been, even amongst the relevant technology we are seeing, the hearing care professional’s role is still as valid as ever. We have seen this first hand, as many audiologists stepped out of their comfort zone and embraced remote care and digital solutions - making rise for an opportunity.
By doing this, as an industry, we have ultimately outreached to more clients from all generations and ensured hearing healthcare was accessible to everyone – no matter the age or climate we found ourselves in.
Hearables and such like
Although there are various audiology choices available for consumers today that we cannot control, like hearables and over-the-counter offerings (OTC) - there remains a need for the provision of knowledge and assistance. Patients are still wanting to gain from expert guidance, support and aftercare from an actual person who they can trust.
What has been a breath of fresh air and the right balance between modern hearables and premium hearing aids is the launch of Signia Active. A ready-to-wear hearing aid incorporating Signia's proven hearing technology that is refined and unique to the wearer's needs.
Making hearing experiences focused and more tailored by filtering specific, taking away unwelcomed background noise and highlighting conversational focus - as well as promoting the modern take on premium hearing aid products in a hearable design.
There is also another perspective when talking about the hearables market and that they have normalised and popularised hearing aids, which in turn, will eventually change the negative stigma surrounding them. This has the potential to inspire people to seek medical help for their hearing loss before the seven years average – something this industry is ceaselessly passionate about.
More 'world's first' to be had
Hearing aids are some of the most advanced forms of technology on the market today – offering in-the-ear computers and great connectivity. There have been some impressive breakthrough hearing aid technology and world-firsts already, such as Signia’s Acoustic Motion Sensors and Resound’s unique microphone placement.
Hearing aids will continue to evolve into robust devices like our smartphones and present unique opportunities in different ways for hearing aid wearers, as well as pushing the boundaries of an optimum hearing experience. We predict that 2021 will continue to be a rather exciting time for the audiology industry and the future in waiting.
Here is a breakdown of what's most likely in regards to technology for 2021 & beyond
Latest hearing aid technology and reviews - In Conclusion
Here, at Hearing Aid UK, we are looking forward to seeing how the audiology industry unravels in regards to hearing aid launches, new hearing aid platforms and additional styles. As ever, we endeavour to give you our honest opinion from our network and the latest information on hearing aids available on the market.
If you would like to discuss anything within this article or would like any advice on hearing healthcare, call us free on 0800 567 7621
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When we refer to a product as 'New', we mean that the product is new to the market.
When we refer to a product as 'Superseded', we mean that there is a newer range available which replaces and improves on this product.
When we refer to a product as an 'Older Model', we mean that it is has been superseded by at least two more recent hearing aid ranges.