Minneapolis-based Starkey Hearing Technologies, one of the largest hearing aid companies in the United States, has launched a Bluetooth-enabled, iPhone-connected hearing aid. Unlike most existing wireless hearing aids, the Halo device connects directly to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch with no need for any additional device or a complicated setup.
"Nearly all of the hearing aids in the US market are digital, and two thirds are sold with the ability to connect to a phone or a TV or some kind of streaming device that requires wireless connectivity," Dave Fabry, Vice President of Audiology and Professional Relations at Starkey, told MobiHealthNews. "However, they require, in the main, some sort of intermediate bridge -- some kind of neckworn device that contains the antenna and the power supply. So what ends up happening is, even with that potential for wireless connectivity, a very small percent of people who have it, actually use it."
The smartphone app, called TruLink, interacts with the hearing aid in several ways. The app can be used as a remote control, adjusting the hearing aid settings for different environments. With a feature called SoundSpace, the user can then save those settings and geotag them, so that those settings will automatically change when the user is in that location again.
The app also allows the iPhone's built in microphone to be used as a hearing aid in some situations, similarly to the many stand-alone hearing aid apps on the app store.
"Let’s say I go to a restaurant with my wife and it’s a noisy restaurant," Fabry said. "I can set the iPhone on the table or closer to her, so that when she’s speaking, the iPhone mic picks up her voice. And I can actually disable the ear-level mic on the Halo hearing aid, so I’m filtering out the ambient noise in the room and her voice is coming in through that iPhone microphone pickup."
Finally, the app allows the user to find a lost hearing aid with GPS location, and allows them to stream phone calls directly to the hearing aid, in both ears. The Halo will sell for around $2,000, about the same price as an ordinary hearing aid. The battery, which is replaceable, not rechargeable, will last one to two weeks, depending on how much the user takes advantage of the phone connectivity.
Fabry says the moment for smartphone-enabled hearing aids is now because of the natural demographic shift in hearing aid users.
"We are right on the cusp of a transition from the more traditionalist generation to Baby Boomers," he said. "Boomers are turning 68 this year. The average age of a first time hearing aid user is 69. Boomers are much more comfortable with technology than their predecessors."