Fort Myers audiologist explains new AI-powered hearing aids

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

For years, many people dealing with hearing loss avoided or delayed getting hearing aids because they often weren’t much help. But a new generation of devices is moving the needle on sound.

Hearing loss is a major problem, especially in the older adult population. Being unable to interact or track conversations can lead to depression and other conditions. Now, hearing aids that take advantage of neural networks and artificial intelligence are being made.

They aren’t your grandpa’s hearing aids. They may be small, but they may also be the smartest hearing devices you’ve ever seen.

“These new AI hearing aids made by a company called Oticon actually have 12 million sound samples in them,” said Fort Myers audiologist Jack Adams.

Today’s hearing aids are essentially miniature computers. When Adams started working with patients years ago, they mostly amplified volumes. Now, next-gen devices make a world of difference.

“Now, a hearing aid is going into the room and listening to that room and identifying that sound by putting it through its database and then latching on to the proprietary amplification that is most suited for that particular scene,” Adams said.

Every setting has different sound dynamics. Whether you’re in a workspace, a car or outdoors, there are noises you want to tune out in order to hear better. AI devices are smart enough to cut through the clutter.

“What they’re capable of doing now is differentiating between speech and noise, and listening to a sound scene and latching on to the speech signals that are hopefully most relevant to that individual,” Adams said. “OK, so if I’m sitting across the table from you in a noisy environment, it’s going to know that I’m trying to listen to the person across the table from me. And, so, it’s going to enhance the desired level for speech over and above the background.”

For years, Bob Tanis had issues with hearing. Even though he wore aids, the struggle was ever-present.

“It’s very frustrating, as anybody that wears hearing aids knows,” Tanis said. “Once you start out with them, you know, you’re… you can hear things better, but it isn’t really real.”

The switch to an AI hearing aid was almost a return to normalcy.

“You can hear the different sounds in different ears,” Tanis said. “It’s amazing, the difference it can hear.”

Studies find restoring hearing to a more normal level impacts the brain in many ways.

“They’re finding that, cognitively, people that keep their auditory system stimulated with amplification have better memory, have better ability to process information and have less risk of dementia,” Adams said.

As this technology improves, it’s helping more people fine-tune their lives.

While millions of Americans use hearing aids, the CDC reports that in people 70 and older, fewer than 30% of those who could benefit from them actually wear one. These new devices may make it more appealing.

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