Hearing Aids, Hearables, What's Next?

Hearables, What Are They?

The phrase Hearables has been coined for smart wearable devices that are worn in the ear. In the last two years we have seen an explosion in devices that fit within this category. The truth is that hearing aids were the first hearables.  This new wave of devices is more about lifestyle and activity than it is about hearing better. 

Tracking Your Vitals

The new wave of hearables basically track pulse, blood oxygenation and steps, while allowing you to connect to your phone, allowing you to track activity, take calls and listen to your music. The fact is that the ear is an excellent place to take medical readings.  In fact, with the right sensor we can even perform an ecg via the ear. 

This hasn't gone unnoticed, and a Danish company named Jabra ( a Bluetooth headset and earphone manufacturer) has just entered into a world wide agreement with TrainerMD, the first HIPAA compliant software platform to allow doctors to monitor patients' fitness and nutrition in real time. It is possible that this program will allow the collaboration of doctors, trainers and nurses on the needs of patients suffering from obesity, cancer, and diabetes.

So the next time you go to your doctor, he could send you away with a prescription for Jabra headsets. What is interesting for us in audiology is that Jabra is a sister company of one of the larger hearing aid manufacturers, GN Resound. In fact, in a statement Jabra said that they had pooled research and development work with Resound because it made perfect sense. 

What Next For Hearing Aids?

GN Resound is one of the most progressive hearing aid manufacturers.  They were the first to the market with Made For iPhone hearing aids, so they aren't afraid of trying something new. Their experience with Jabra and the wider pressure around the world for preventative healthcare as opposed to reactive healthcare could present them with an opportunity to deliver a completely new form of hearing aid. 

Hearing Aids That Focus on General Health

That's probably what's next for hearing aids: instruments that don't just help you hear better and connect to your communications and entertainment equipment, but devices that will also help you with your general health and security. Hearing aids that monitor your vitals and exercise and tell you how good, bad or indifferent you are doing. Hearing aids that provide real time data for your doctor so he can monitor your health. It is a matter of a re-design, the addition of some sensors, and ensuring the battery can deliver. 

Everything else that is needed to deliver the concept is already in place. We have the connection to a smart phone and via that the internet. The possibilities are really only held back by the imagination. Already Oticon (another large Danish hearing aid manufacturer) has developed a link between their latest hearing aids and the IFTTT (If This Then That) network.

This network is a really cool idea.  It works as it sounds: one action on an internet connected device can trigger a different action on a separate device. Or a particular set of parameters can trigger an action on an internet connected device. For instance, you can set a recipe (that's what they call them) for your heating to turn on when the temperature outside drops to a certain temperature. One use case that Oticon has talked about is for entertainment. You can take a look at the video below but basically the man says TV on and the lights automatically dim, his hearing aids immediately switch to the best settings for TV and the TV comes on.

Hearing Aids That Make Your Life Better

As more and more modern devices become connected to the internet of things (IOT) the possibilities just explode. Imagine your coffee machine starting in the morning when you turn on your hearing aids. Imagine if when the doorbell rang you got a notification in your hearing aids. These are things that can make life easier, and that is what technology is supposed to do. However, imagine you were home alone and you took a fall, your hearing aids sensed the fall and the fact that you weren't moving, then automatically notified whoever you had saved as an emergency contact. How safe would equipment like that make you feel? 

So here's looking forward to the future of hearing aids and the amazing possibilities of the technology.