There are currently over 11 million people in the UK with hearing loss, or one in six of the population. This looks to rise to 15.6 million by 2035, to one in five people. Over 70% of people over the age of 70 have some kind of hearing loss. Hearing aids generally tend to look awkward and bulky and clearly announce the fact that you have difficulty hearing. Very few people relish wearing one and will struggle on for as long as possible without. But it seems that we may not be that far away from hearing aids becoming the next new fashion accessory.
American artist Elena Langer was Inspired by her elegant grandmother who resisted wearing a hearing aid due to the stigma associated with them. Elena, who who runs the ethical project blog “What I Live By” set about making hearing aids more glamorous and more like jewellery. She teamed up with NYC photographer Hanna Agar, they created a dazzling series of shots in real world senarios. Elena modelled for the photo shoot, wearing her hand crafted pieces that looked more like an extravagant pair of earrings, dripping with diamonds, than a hearing aid.
In certain environments, such as busy restaurants or large groups of people or with background noise, the current hearing aids are not always that effective. Using a more minimal approach, a new company called Soundhawk have developed a sleek new hearing device that utilises smartphone and sensor technology to overcome this problem. Soundhawk is not a hearing aid, but it was created by some of the world’s leading hearing experts. Soundhawk is designed for people who struggle to understand soft speech, have difficulty hearing conversation over distances, or have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments.
Soundhawk works by increasing the strength of the sounds that you want to hear whilst de-emphasising background noise. The smart listening system includes the Scoop (the earpiece) and a Wireless Mic, which when placed near the sound source delivers clear sound to the Scoop – even in the noisiest of places like restaurants or a lively dinner table. The Wireless Mic has a range of up to 33 feet and can be placed on a table or clipped onto the clothing of the person you are talking to. A charging case is included with a USB that plugs into an outlet or computer to charge. The devices are unified by a simple mobile App. The reviews are generally good but for a few customers it seems as if Soundhawk was not always the solution. However, their customer service seemed quick to respond and refund. Soundhawk is currently only available in the United States but we have been advised that international shipping is in the pipeline.
Taking a slightly alternative approach, Babelfisk visual hearing aid is a concept device created by Danish industrial designer Mads Hindhede. The hearing aid is housed in a pair of glasses with built in speech recognition software and the speech is converted into text in the form of speech bubbles which display on the glasses.
The device has two built in microphones which also address the issue of where the sound is coming from, helping the wearer to adapt to a 3D environment that sound creates.
Although Bablefisk does not appear to have moved on from its concept stage, it still offers a vision for an intelligently designed approach to hearing loss.