(BPT) - Hearing aids - those two words alone may conjure up images of unattractive, beige devices that your father or grandmother once wore before finally throwing them in a drawer, never to be seen again. And who could blame them? In the past, hearing aids were big, bulky and fragile - incapable of getting wet or dirty. But hearing aids have come a very long way. Here are five things you may not know about today's digital hearing aids:
1. Hearing aids can adjust automatically based on your listening situation
Digital hearing aids of the past required you to manually switch programs depending on your environment (for example noisy vs. quiet). The latest hearing aids are smart enough to recognize up to six distinct listening environments: quiet, speech in quiet, noise, speech in noise, car or music. The hearing aids continuously detect which of the six situations you're in and automatically switch settings for the best hearing in that environment. No manual adjustments are needed.
2. Hearing aids can act like your own personal headset
Most people who have hearing loss have it in both ears and need two hearing aids. Wireless hearing aids 'talk' with each other so touching the volume control or program switch for one hearing aid automatically adjusts both. Today's hearing aids are personal electronics that work with your high-tech gadgets. You can wirelessly stream music into your hearing aids from an iPod, hear a call that just came in on your smartphone, and listen to the television with no delay at your preferred volume - without disturbing others.
3. You can swim, sweat and ski while wearing hearing aids
In 2011, Aquaris, made by Siemens, was the first digital waterproof, dustproof and shock-resistant hearing aid. For high-school swimmer Kristle Cowan of Phoenix, a waterproof hearing aid is life-changing.
'Before my waterproof hearing aids, I felt like quitting the swim team,' says 17-year old Cowan. 'My old hearing aids couldn't get wet so I couldn't wear them in the pool. I would be at a competition and get disqualified because I couldn't hear the buzzer. Now I can hear everything.'
Waterproof hearing aids aren't just for swimmers either. Because they are so robust and stay securely in place behind the ear, many people can benefit, including those who perspire heavily, are active in sports, or who garden or work in dusty environments.
4. Hearing aids are rechargeable
If the idea of having to change tiny batteries once a week (or more) makes you cringe, you're not alone. With rechargeable hearing aids, there's no more constant fumbling with batteries. According to Dr. Gabrielle Filips of Siemens Hearing Instruments, people with arthritis, Parkinson's disease or other conditions that create dexterity problems can really struggle with opening battery packages, accessing a battery compartment and guiding a battery into place.
Rechargeable hearing aids are also friendlier to the environment - and our wallets. Over a three-year time span, two rechargeable hearing aids and a charging station cost less than three year's worth of weekly disposable batteries. They're easy to use, too. At night, you place the hearing aids into a charger and every morning you'll have freshly-charged hearing aids.
5. Hearing aids can be invisible
Like contact lens wearers, most people still want to be discreet about their hearing aids. The stigma associated with wearing hearing aids still ranks among the top reasons why consumers choose not to purchase them. But with invisible hearing aids, only you know you're wearing the device.
Invisible and nearly-invisible hearing aids like Siemens Eclipse are very comfortable, too. According to Filips, because they sit closer to the ear drum, they provide a more natural sound quality without a muffled or over-amplified effect. And, in case you were wondering, a tiny, transparent removal cord lets the wearer safely remove the hearing aids anytime - without having to see a professional.
With all these advances, it's no wonder hearing aid wearers are happier and more satisfied than ever. In fact, the technology may give some wearers an advantage over those without hearing loss. So make that appointment to get your hearing checked that you've been putting off.