Of the approximately 48 million people across the U.S. that are affected by hearing loss, surveys have shown that people often wait years after discovering their hearing loss to purchase a hearing device, sometimes up to 15 years. While the transition could be immediate due to a traumatic incident, hearing loss is more often a slow progression brought on with age. Some might not even realize they have a problem, but it’s a safe bet those around them have noticed.
Not surprising, these reports highlight the reasons for individuals putting off getting assistance with their hearing loss. It can be due to the stigma of having to wear a hearing aid at a younger age. It often makes people feel prematurely aged.
For the older generations, sometimes the advancements of technology are just too intimidating. The devices have tiny parts, they may need to learn to use a smartphone to adjust the programming of the device, or maybe they can’t remember exactly how the thing operates from day to day.
Many also have high expectations of what technology can offer them. When the devices can’t completely replace or resume perfect hearing, they get tossed in a drawer and lauded as unworthy junk. Others are simply turned off by the price. For those living on a fixed income, it can seem like it is not possible.
There are other reasons, but for the younger groups, the stigma of using a hearing aid seems to be a big issue and unfortunately, ends up depriving people of fully enjoying life due to hearing loss. Luckily, technology is making great strides in mobile technology and they are now combining smartphone apps with hearing assistive technology.
Thanks to the boom of mobile internet users, a whopping 61 percent of the world’s population utilize mobile internet options and that number is expected to grow to 79 percent by the year 2025. Unfortunately, there is currently not a lot of research available to establish the performance of these apps.
For those who are interested in sussing out their own best option, there are 4 areas to look at when choosing the right application.
- The app needs to be downloadable and have the ability to function while the user is offline
- It has to be easy to use without a lot of training
- The app must produce quality sound for the user even if they are using inexpensive earbuds
- It needs to be able to be used with wireless or wired earbuds
Most of the apps have a disclaimer that recommended using wired earbuds so as to minimize the delay between the phone and the earbuds. Google Play and Apple App Store both have different apps that cover all the previously mentioned areas.
Petralex had high marks for sound quality, latency and signal to noise ratio when using an iPhone versus the Android. The remaining five applications (Super Ear, Earshot, Hearing Aid Master, Fennex, and Hearing Ears) performed better when using iPhone as opposed to Android phones. It is important to note that the higher-performing apps were also the most expensive comparably.
These apps offer a setting for reducing background noise, depending on the surrounding background noise, but there seemed to be no way to reduce the sound of the user’s voice when it came through the application along with the other conversation. This was the same with any of the applications which may lead to some people finding the experience to be an uncomfortable one with their own voice echoing in their ears.
While testing out the different apps, keep in mind that many of the apps free trial versions don’t allow the user to set preferences for their own voice suppression or background noise suppression. Another issue that had users unhappy with certain apps, even the higher-performing ones, was the self-administered diagnostic hearing tests that are used by the app to determine levels of amplification needed. Users should take the time to adjust the settings in either direction of the recommended settings before deciding it’s not a good fit for them.
Currently, the apps rated for better performance such as Fennex and Petralex actually utilize the same algorithms as hearing aids to provide better amplification. It should be noted though that the performance of these apps is not consistent across platforms or the devices.
iOS and Android both offer benefits to the user, as do many of the individual apps available today, but that doesn’t mean what works best for one is also the best option for the person standing beside them. As individual as humans are, so are their specific hearing needs. While one person may need amplification of higher frequencies, someone else may need it at a lower range and not all apps are created equal.
If you are experiencing difficulties hearing, the first step is to schedule an exam with your hearing health professional. They’re trained to administer tests, evaluate the results, and offer the latest in opportunities to improve your hearing health.