• Made For iPhone Hearing Aids: Hands On With Halo, A Mission-Critical Wearable

    Electronic hearing aids have been in use for more than a century, yet in all of the contemporary buzz about wearable devices hearing aids have been conspicuously absent. My personal experience using the new Starkey Halo i110 made for iPhone hearing aids over the past two months has convinced me that this is a technology that will gain very wide adoption over the coming decade. Beyond being able to adjust the devices from an app on my iPhone, which is convenient for the most part, I can stream the incoming audio from phone calls or music from iTunes or even responses from Siri right to my ears. Although there are many headphones that allow you to take phone calls through a built-in mic, it’s polite to take them off when you are talking to a physical person in front of you. Not so with hearing aids. It is an interesting reversal, but in an age where we are listening to remote audio for hours a day, wearing hearing aids is actually a convenience !

    First, let me discuss the obvious reasons why these mission-critical wearables are not all over TechCrunch and Mashable . Number one: there has always been a stigma attached to hearing loss. If you don’t understand what someone else is saying, you could be deaf or stupid and likely, dread of dreads, old . Which brings us to number two: most people who wear hearing aids are older. So admitting that part of your hearing range is shot is tantamount to admitting that a significant part of your life is over. And, number three: hearing aids have been fabulously expensive—along the lines of a high-end computer (or now, two!)

    Next, let’s burst some of these bubbles. I have worn hearing aids for the past couple of years. I have also worn eyeglasses almost my entire life. I gotta tell you, they are much alike. (Starkey, the maker of the Halo, also make a very minimalist aid, not controllable by iPhone, called the SoundLens.) Before I got them I had spent a few years missing parts of conversations and filling in the missing details through inference. The lapses of understanding—the incorrect inferences—were mostly in the personal sphere. Within business communication, conversations are usually specifically scoped so that your vocabulary of inference is somewhat limited. But in my busy household of five, context varies moment to moment and I found I was missing the beat more times than I wanted to admit.

    As far as age is concerned, yes, older people wear the majority of hearing aids, and I am on the young side of that cohort. Currently, 15% of the U.S. population is 65 or older (50 million people) and 26% are classified as Boomers (80 million people between 50 and 68). Removing the overlap, that’s a primary market, in the U.S. only, of 118 million people. That’s a lot of wearables! But there are many younger people walking around with hearing loss as well (see below for more stats on market sizing.)

  • New study shows hearing loss impacts brain function

    Contributed by Lisa Packer , staff writer for Healthy Hearing | Thursday, June 18th, 2015

    When we think of the word “reorganization”, we don’t usually associate it with the brain; but now a new study indicates that is exactly what happens when we start to lose our hearing. The good news is that this new information is shedding new light on the correlation between hearing loss and dementia, and could have long term implications for hearing loss screening and intervention.

    The study , done at the University of Colorado’s Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science, looked at how neuroplasticity — how the brain reorganizes itself by forming new neuron connections throughout life — plays into the adaptation of the brain after hearing loss . The study sought to answer two questions: How does the brain adapt to hearing loss and what are the resulting implications?

    hearing loss and brain impact
    This scan was used by researchers to provide
    a glimpse behind how our brain absorbs sound.

    Anu Sharma/University of Colorado

    Neuroplasticity is, in effect, the brain’s ability to change at any age. Conventional wisdom used to view the brain as static and unable to change; scientists now know this is not the case. In the case of hearing loss, the part of the brain devoted to hearing can actually become reorganized, i.e. reassigned to other functions.

    The participants in the study were adults and children with varying degrees of hearing loss ; some had only mild hearing loss while others were severely hearing impaired or deaf. Using up to 128 sensors attached to the scalp of each subject, the team of researchers used EEG recordings to measure brain activities in response to sound stimulation. By doing this, they were able to understand how the brains of people with different degrees of hearing loss respond differently than those of people with normal hearing.

    Perhaps most importantly, the researchers found when hearing loss occurs, areas of the brain devoted to other senses such as vision or touch will actually take over the areas of the brain which normally process hearing. It’s a phenomenon called cross-modal cortical reorganization, which is reflective of the brain’s tendency to compensate for the loss of other senses. Essentially, the brain adapts to a loss by rewiring itself. It is a makeover of sorts, but one that can have a seriously detrimental effect on cognition.

    Even early stages of hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline. Healthy hearing and early intervention in the event of any degree hearing loss are essential to maintaining strong cognitive function. As a matter of fact, a recent French study that looked at the result of cochlear implants in the elderly showed that cognitive skills improved as speech comprehension improved.

    In those with hearing loss, the compensatory adaptation system significantly reduces the brain’s ability to process sound, which in turn affects a person’s ability to understand speech. And even with mild hearing loss, the hearing areas of the brain become weaker. What happens next is that the areas of the brain that are necessary for higher level thinking compensate for the weaker areas. They step in and essentially take over for hearing, leaving them unavailable to do their primary job.

    “The hearing areas of the brain shrink in age-related hearing loss,” said Anu Sharma, PhD, a researcher on the University of Colorado study. “Centers of the brain that are typically used for higher-level decision-making are then activated in just hearing sounds. These compensatory changes increase the overall load on the brains of aging adults. Compensatory brain reorganization secondary to hearing loss may also be a factor in explaining recent reports in the literature that show age-related hearing loss is significantly correlated with dementia.”

    Compensatory brain reorganization could explain why age related hearing loss is so strongly correlated with dementia, and why it must be taken seriously. Even in the early stages of hearing loss, the brain begins to reorganize. Knowing this, the solution could be as simple as early hearing loss screening programs for adults. Getting ahead of the decline through early intervention could prevent long term cognitive issues down the road.

    The could also have implications for deaf children with cochlear implants. Looking at the brain waves of a child with cochlear implants could indicate the specifics of that child’s cross-modal reorganization and could allowing doctors to tailor a hearing rehabilitation program to the individual child.

    The team at the University of Colorado isn’t finished yet; practical applications of the study are next. “Our goal is to develop user-friendly EEG technologies, to allow clinicians to easily ‘image’ the brains of individual patients with hearing loss to determine whether and to what degree their brains have become reorganized,” said Sharma. “In this way, the blueprint of brain reorganization can guide clinical intervention for patients with hearing loss.”

    Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have some degree of hearing loss. The number increases to almost 50 percent for those over 75. However, less than 25 percent of people who need hearing aids actually get them. The average time someone with hearing loss waits to seek treatment is seven years, which is a tremendous period of cognitive decline that is easily preventable.

    If you think you may have hearing loss, make an appointment with your local hearing healthcare professional. To find one near you, check out our directory .

  • Kids with hearing aids start social media campaign

    SAN ANTONIO, Texas –

    Emma Rudkin and Erin Dabbs share a special bond, they both wear hearing aids. But doing that hasn’t always been easy for 12-year-old Erin.

    “It was hard to wear my hearing aids because I was scared that everyone was just going to like not like me as me anymore because I had those on,” said Erin.

    Then Emma came up with a whole new plan with her mom, Kathy Rudkin.

    Kathy said, “I wanted do a campaign that we’re proud of, you know this isn’t something to be ashamed of, so let’s show our aids!”

    A social media campaign was born. #ShowYourAids . It’s Emma’s way of saying hearing aids rock!

    “When we are comfortable with it, we invite other people to be comfortable as well,” Emma explained.

    Emma’s campaign exploded. She knows what looks good; she just won a beauty pageant and she may make it as a singer too.

    And Erin now wants her friends to see what she needs to hear. Not only is she open about telling them, she’s posted a picture online showing off her aids.

    “They said oh ok, well that’s cool and I was like, ok and we stayed friends,” said Erin.

    Which is a trend she wants to see grow.

    “I just hope that other people will embrace their hearing like I did,” Erin added.

    The ” Show Your Aids ” social media campaign raises money with every picture posted. The funds raised go to buying hearing aids for those who can’t afford them, fund research and paying for summer camps for kids.

    By the way, a donor recently offered $500 for Derrick Coleman , NFL fullback for the Seattle Seahawks, to post a picture of his aids on the site, which he did!

    Aid the Silent

    Out of every 1,000 children born in United States , 2 to 3 of those children are born with hearing loss in one or both of their ears . About 90% of deaf children have parents able to hear. Hearing loss means having to wear a hearing aid, which for children isn’t always easy when they are growing up because they can feel different from their friends. Emma Rudkin, who is now 19 years old, started a campaign with her mother Kathy, so that people like her, who wear hearing aids could embrace them. The campaign has increasingly gained popularity and can be found by searching #ShowYourAids.

    Emma was inspired by the pre-teens and teens who had been calling her about facing insecurities and bullying due to the fact that they wore hearing aids. They turned to her because she has always been confident, despite having hearing aids. Her campaign has helped people become courageous and proud or their aids as well. The campaign is called Aid the Silent, and began in January of 2015. The website and Facebook page were launched in February, and their followers are growing by about 125 new likes per week. One donor agreed to give $20 per post up $5000 to grow awareness. What the money goes towards is determined by scholarship applications and through the Advisory Board. On the website’s homepage there are scholarship applications for hearing aids, FM systems and ministry camps. There are also education and research donations to organizations the board choses. To apply for a scholarship go to: http://aidthesilent.com/apply/ .

    Emma Rudkin also won Miss San Antonio, where her talent was singing and playing guitar. She also won Overall Talent Winner, Overall Interview Winner and Miss Congeniality. On July 4th, she will go to the Miss Texas pageant, and hopes to be in the Miss America pageant this summer. Besides playing the guitar she also plays the ukulele and the piano. She has shown that she isn’t letting having hearing aids slow her down or be insecure.