We think that by 2060the number of Americans with hearing loss will double, which is particularly concerning because currently only about 25% of older people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually have access to or are willing to use the expensive equipment. They are not a perfect alternative, but a new study found that Apple’s wireless headphones can serve as a more affordable and accessible sound-amplifying device.
Although the The Food and Drug Administration has finalized the regulations To make hearing aids more widely available without a prescription, medically approved sound amplification devices have long been prescription-only in the United States, requiring a visit to a doctor and often-repeated visits to an audiologist, who adjusts the material for the level of each user. hearing loss. The hardware itself can also cost upwards of $10,000, depending on its size and capabilities, often making it completely inaccessible to those without medical insurance to cover the costs.
Over-the-counter hearing aids will hopefully help make these devices more accessible, at least in the US, but according to the handful of companies that have already announced over-the-counter sound-amplifying devices, these could potentially still costs well over $1,000. They also don’t address other issues that have hindered hearing aid adoption, including social stigmas with the devices associated with the elderly.
Inspired by a feature called Live Listen released in 2016 by Applewhich allows an iPhone or iPad to be used as a sound amplifier microphone, Taipei Veterans General Hospital researchers wondered if the performance of the original AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro using this feature could be compared to medical hearing aids. Apple isn’t positioning Live Listen as a tool for people with hearing loss, but as a way for users with normal hearing to amplify desired sounds, like the calls of a bird. However, the researchers found that, in some situations, consumer-level personal sound-amplifying products performed quite well compared to more expensive doctor-prescribed solutions, and given the popularity of products like AirPods. from Apple, there is no stigma associated with wearing them.
Researchers tested the $129 AirPods 2 and $249 AirPods Pro paired with iPhone XS Max smartphones running iOS 13. They compared them to the $10,000 OTICON Opn 1 behind-the-ear hearing aids and an alternative more affordable, the Bernafon MD1 at $1,500. The four options were tested with 21 participants with mild to moderate hearing loss, who were asked to repeat short sentences read by the researchers in varying environments.
In a quiet environment, the AirPods Pro performed as well as the cheaper hearing aids and nearly as good as the top-end model, while the AirPods 2 performed the worst of the four devices tested, but still helped participants to hear what was read. for them more clearly than not using a sound-enhancing device at all. In a noisy environment, the AirPods Pro sounded even closer to the high-end hearing aid model, thanks to their built-in noise cancellation, but only when distracting noises came from the participant’s sides. When noise came from the front, alongside the sample sentences read by the researchers, both wireless headphones failed to improve what was heard.
Research shows there’s a good reason the hearing aid market wasn’t wiped out when wireless headphones started flooding the market. The advanced microphones and speech enhancement algorithms used in prescription hearing aids still outperform even headphones with advanced noise cancellation capabilities in a wider variety of noisy environments. Hearing aids remain the best option for those with hearing loss, but for those who don’t have access to them for whatever reason, a cheaper product like Apple’s AirPods Pro could provide noticeable improvements in hearing loss. hearing and clarity for those with mild to moderate hearing loss and could serve as a useful alternative until over-the-counter solutions are more readily available and affordable.