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Hearing Aids for the Elderly, How it Works and Different Types

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Hearing Aids for the Elderly, How it Works and Different TypesAs the senses become dull with age, assistive devices offer a convenient solution to counteract the difficulty in living with these age-related changes in the body. The sense of hearing is no different and even without any disease there is age-related hearing loss which is known as presbycusis. The severity of the hearing loss varies among individuals but sometimes an elderly person may have complete hearing loss in one or both ears. Surgery is often not considered in the elderly although it may be a viable, albeit expensive, option for younger people. However, the advances in modern technology, particularly in the field of electronics, means that devices such as hearing aids can greatly relieve the loss of hearing with age.

How does hearing loss occur in the elderly?

There are different mechanisms by which hearing loss may occur. Sometimes it is conductive where the transmission of sound waves into the inner ear is impaired. At other times it may be sensorineural where the conversion of sound waves into electrical impulses and transmitting it to the brain for deciphering may be cause of the problem. Different diseases may affect hearing in one or both ways. Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) is sensorineural in nature. Here there is degeneration of the tiny hairs in the inner ear that detect sound waves and changes it to nerve impulses. It is an irreversible change in the cochlear of the inner ear.

How does a hearing aid work?

A hearing aid essentially amplifies sound. By making it louder it can increase the stimulation of the remaining tiny hairs within the inner ear although there are fewer hairs or less competent hairs. In this way a hearing aid is able to restore some degree of hearing to the elderly although there may still be some limitations with pitch. Gone are the days of using large ear horns as micro-electronics has packed components into miniature devices.

The electronic hearing aid, or more correctly the electroacoustic hearing aid, detects sound in the environment, amplifies it and then delivers into the ear canal. These electronic aids should not be confused with surgically implanted prosthetic devices. The modern hearing aid is a small device that can be inserted and removed at will and also disabled when necessary. It is the successor of the outdated hearing aids that had a large box and cumbersome wires for amplifying sound electronically.

Types of Hearing Aids

There are several different types of hearing aids, all of which perform essentially the same function. It is best to decide upon a suitable device in conjunction with an audiologist and otolaryngologist. The price factor is another consideration, as well as the cost effectiveness of maintaining the device, durability of the device and risk of causing any other problems. It is important that the user is also comfortable with the specific type of hearing aid.

There are broadly two types of hearing aids – analog and digital. The latter, digital hearing aids, is preferred for its ability to reduce background noise and improve clarity in most settings. Analog hearing aids are becoming less common these days.

The other types of hearing aids are essentially just different styles of the same device although the pricing can vary significantly.

Behind-The-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aids

The electronic mechanism of these devices, as the name indicates, fit behind the ear. Sound is then transmitted to the opening of the ear canal. The pack housing the electronic components are small and conveniently adhere to the natural curvature of the outer ear to sit behind it. Newer mini-BTE’s are even smaller and almost invisible. The sound reaches the ear canal either acoustically by traveling through plastic tubing to the ear canal or electronically where a small speaker sits at the end of the plastic mount by the opening of the ear canal.

In-The-Ear (ITE) Hearing Aids

These electronic components housed in a tiny package sit in the outer ear. It is comfortable because it is designed to fit within the natural curvature of the ear. These devices then deliver the amplified sound into the outer part of the ear canal.

In-The-Canal (ITC) Hearing Aids

The ITC hearing aids are very small devices that fit partially or completely into the ear canal. The electronic mechanism is minute and housed in a small plastic casing that also sits in the ear canal. It protrudes only slightly from the opening of the ear canal but more high-tech devices, known as completely-in-the-canal (CITC) hearing aids, are invisible as it sits completely within the ear canal. These devices are often more expensive and difficult to remove and insert when one chooses.


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