Hearing aid technology has been evolving since the conception of the first electronic hearing device in 1898. At first, they were large and unwieldy, designed simply to amplify sounds to make them louder for listeners. Over time they’ve advanced in a variety of ways, getting smaller and more comfortable, and incorporating more sophisticated technologies to improve clarity, reduce background noise and protect the wearer.
The most recent innovation is called Augmented Focus, which enhances speech clarity in real time and distinguishes between voices and surrounding sounds better than ever before. Here, we’ll explain exactly how it works and how it can improve the lives of people who wear hearing aids.
What is Augmented Focus?
Augmented Focus, also referred to as augmented listening, is the latest advancement in hearing aid technology, making speech (and other sounds that wearers want to focus on) easier to hear in the midst of background noise. To understand how that’s possible, it’s useful to understand how hearing aids work.
Modern hearing aids are equipped with four primary parts: a microphone, a small computer processor, an amplifier and a receiver/speaker — all powered by a battery. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: The microphone picks up nearby sounds.
Step 2: The sound waves are turned into electrical signals, analyzed and adjusted based on the programming of the computer processor. Hearing aids can be programmed for different listening environments (e.g., quiet conversations, noisy settings like a restaurant) and/or customized to accommodate a person’s individual hearing loss profile or prescription.
Step 3: These processed sounds are then sent to the amplifier, which increases the loudness of the relevant frequencies.
Step 4: Finally, the newly filtered and improved sound is delivered by the receiver/speaker to the inner ear, which can then be naturally processed by the brain.
So where does Augmented Focus come in? By incorporating an additional processor in Step 2, hearing aids with Augmented Focus can split incoming sounds like speech and background noise and process them separately.
How Augmented Focus makes hearing aids better
Imagine you’re sitting in a loud, crowded restaurant, trying to have a conversation with a friend. It’s a challenging listening environment and hard to hear what they’re saying. Now imagine having two separate volume dials: one for the background noise — all the clattering of silverware, the music playing, other conversations happening around you — and another dial for the voice of a person you’re talking to.
Wouldn’t it be nice to turn the volume down on the background noise and turn the volume up on your friend’s voice as they speak to you? That’s what Augmented Focus aims to do automatically, and in real time.
By splitting incoming sounds and processing them independently, a clear contrast is made between speech sounds (or the focus of the listener), which can be amplified and clarified, and background noise, which can be reduced and compressed. The sounds are then recombined at their more desirable, carefully tuned levels, effectively augmenting human hearing.
Augmented listening & enhancing speech clarity
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most common signs of hearing loss are the muffling of speech, difficulty understanding words and trouble hearing consonants, especially in noisy environments or crowded places. In many cases, the issue has less to do with volume (although it can be a combination) and more to do with clarity.
And although hearing aid technology has progressed dramatically over the past couple of decades, from improved comfort and directional microphones to dynamic range compression and speech-enhancing algorithms, Augmented Focus feels like an especially promising breakthrough for what experts call the “clarity gap.”
When sound input in hearing aids is split into two separate streams and then optimized in parallel, the potential for clarity is significantly increased. Pair that with an intelligent sound processing system that can identify certain frequencies, modulations and sound markers as speech and others as surrounding sounds, and remixing technology that combines the separately processed streams in a way that sounds natural and improved in real time, and wearers should be better equipped to focus on what matters and tune out the rest.
Find a hearing aid with the latest technology today
If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss and want some general guidance about hearing aids or making an appointment for a hearing test, ourhear.com hearing experts can help.
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