Technology is an ever-changing, ever-improving machine. Two decades ago, hearing aids were large, clunky things. Behind-the-ear hearing aids were still relatively new, and the first digital hearing aid had just been invented. It was easy to tell who suffered from hearing loss, and people who wore hearing aids were often negatively perceived. Twenty years later, hearing aids are tiny and sleek pieces of technology that are easily incorporated into everyday life. It’s exciting to wonder what the future of hearing loss and hearing aids will look with another few decades of innovation and progress.
While hearing loss and wearing hearing aids have historically been negatively entwined with stigmas about aging and poor health, we can see that changing in society. Hearing aids are much smaller than they used to be, so it is much harder to identify someone with hearing loss. Hearing aids are also being celebrated and treated as more of an accessory than before—there are many companies that make different products to jazz up your hearing aids. These are mostly aimed at children and teens, indicating that as these kids grow up, hearing aids and hearing loss will be more widely accepted and much less stigmatized by society. One day soon they could be as accepted as glasses!
In addition, hearing loss is being represented more in the media. Switched at Birth is a wildly popular TV show about a young woman who is deaf. In Peter’s Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, a dwarf named Òin is partially deaf and uses an ear trumpet to hear—a precursor of modern hearing aids. For graphic novel fans, there is a manga series called GANGSTA that prominently features a deaf character. In the HBO show Weeds, one of the main characters dates and eventually marries a partially deaf women. While hearing loss is not as widely represented as it could be, the media is making progress.
The growth in hearing aid technology and the lessening of negative stigmas about hearing loss are changing the way hearing aids are made and distributed. Currently, hearing aids can be somewhat difficult to buy but the industry is working hard to change that. Recently, the FDA removed a significant obstacle for consumers—the previously-mandatory medical exam needed to buy hearing aids. In addition, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a list of recommendations for improving accessibility and affordability of hearing aids. In the next decade, it could be entirely possibly to see hearing aids being sold over-the-counter and be more comprehensively covered under medical insurance. In addition, right now hearing aids are more accessible due to the internet—with business models like Audicus, you can buy hearing aids online without ever leaving your home!
The future of hearing loss is looking bright. It is clear that the negative ideas associated with hearing loss and wearing hearing aids are growing smaller each day, and the next generation has many positive ideas at how to look at hearing loss. Technology is getting more innovative every year, and the hearing aid industry is working hard to make hearing aids and other technology more accessible for everyone who needs it. 2040—or sooner—could bring about a whole new world of hearing loss!