Digital Technology Allows for “Smart” Hearing Aids
Hearing loss affects more and more people every year. Fortunately, hearing aids have come a long way, even in just a few short years. This is a good thing as, for a while, there was plenty to complain about with some earlier hearing aid models. Taking into consideration patients’ needs, complaints, and likes, researchers have been able to use digital technology to create even better hearing aids. New technology has made it possible for major improvements and changes to take place and enhance what’s already on the market. Here is a look at some of the new features the latest models of hearing aids are boasting.
Minicomputer systems have been installed in some newer designs. These systems are capable of handling multiple applications. Some of the most cutting-edge models are powered by such systems. Some of its most outstanding features will make the user’s life much easier. For example, there is a telephone response application; when the user answers a phone, the device automatically minimizes feedback and adjusts volume controls to be more sensitive to voices on the other end.
Another feature is the directional speech detector. Some models even allow you to choose whether your alerts are given in a male or female voice. Alerts that let you know when the battery is low, or inform you when it needs a follow-up, can help users properly maintain and use their devices.
With the problem of hearing loss on the rise, the need is greater than ever before for more effective devices that are user-friendly. New technology has pushed the humble hearing aid into the digital present. Finally, models are available that will help those with hearing issues be able to hear and do so comfortably.
At the end of 2012, surgery to insert a newly designed implant for the middle ear was performed for the first time. The implant is designed to help restore hearing to those who are functionally deaf.
The implant uses the skull bones to conduct sound vibrations, and thus the implant needs to be placed directly against the skull by going in behind the ear with an implant of approximately six millimeters placed under the skin.
The bones were a clear solution for producing sound, as it was already known that about half of what we perceive of our own voices is heard through vibrations in the skull. Thus the implant is being called the Bone Conduction Implant (or BCI).
This is not of course the first hearing implant that uses bone conduction – it is however the first that doesn’t require a screw made of titanium to be inserted through the flesh to attach the implant to the skull.
This cuts down on the likelihood of complications resulting from loss of the screw or infections at the implant site. Furthermore, the quality of sound seems to be better with the volume several decibels higher – it will also allow the patient to hear higher frequencies with better sound quality than previous implants.
The first operation seems to have been a success – everything went smoothly and appears to be in working order. The six week recovery period is almost complete at which point the part that should allow the patient to hear can be turned on, upon which the final verdict on the success of the procedure will be known.
These devices will prove particularly vital for those who have hearing damage to the outer and middle ear. Those with inner ear hearing loss can usually benefit from a hearing aid – however, this often fails to help problems in other parts of the ear which involve damage that is more structural than neurological.
Research continues with the aim of understanding how the implant could help those with cochlear damage. This would also make it effective for individuals whose hearing problems begin in the inner ear, making the device versatile in its treatment of hearing loss.
If the results of the hearing test go well after turning on the device this month, further study will continue with more procedures performed in Spring of 2013.
Some infections are chronic like CF, cholera, bronchitis, and even recurring sinus infections. These diseases create a biofilm that makes it difficult to fight the disease. Researchers who were working on a new form of medical imaging may have discovered a way to fight against such resistance.
The new imaging technology involves fluorescent labeling which effectively color codes different parts of the infection to reveal weak points to attack. By attacking these weak points, the infections would be left more vulnerable to antibiotics, which could then be used to finish off the disease.
Almost all diseases of this sort grow together in communities, and by observing the communities using this new technology, researchers hope to find how to break those communities down, thus weakening the disease. This imaging is combined with ultra magnification to see the process at the lowest level. It is kind of like using Google street view, but instead of observing a town of people, doctors can look at a town of infectious disease. It is hoped that this will open up a whole new world of ideas on how to fight these infections.
Getting together in communities is a survival tactic for bacteria, and scientists are discovering that most forms of bacteria do this. It is what makes them resistant to antibiotics. Often, a disease seems to have been cured by such medicine, but then recurs. This is because the antibiotics have only treated bacteria that has left the home community and caused a more acute reaction. The biofilm, however, is untouched by the disease, and more intruders may venture out to cause a reaction again at any time.
Researchers were able to use new imaging methods to actually observe such a colony forming. Once the disease fastened itself to a location, it began to divide. Each cell that it multiplied into would in turn be connected via the same adhesive. Before long, it was an entire community of bacteria, latched on tight. One suggestion on how to fight diseases that act like this is to find medicine that will dissolve the adhesive and separate the infection from its home.
More applications of this imaging technology are being explored.