Hearing aids have come a long way since the ear trumpet; from the traditional aid that simply amplified sound and delivered it to the ear via an earpiece (air conduction), to the so-called "bionic ear" that works by directly stimulating auditory nerves inside the cochlea with an electric field. But the journey continues, with newer technologies which use the bones of the skull to conduct sound.
Now Cochlear has launched a new direct bone conduction device, the BAHA BP100, that delivers significant improvements in speech understanding in noisy situations (about 25%) and better bone conduction hearing performance than ever before. It can also integrate with other lifestyle accessories such as iPods and Bluetooth adapters.
The Baha is the world's first direct bone conduction device to use an advanced automatic signal processing system that adjusts to changing sound environments, without manual adjustment from the user.
Different forms of hearing loss may require combinations of all of these technologies. Traditional hearing aids will be all but completely useless to you, if your ear is completely blocked either by infection or some other problem. The sound simply will not "get in". And this is where the new bone conduction technologies come in.
We’ve told you about advances in hearing aids like the OSPA that looks more like fashion accessory than a hearing aid, and the DUET that combines a traditional hearing aid with bone conductive technology. The Baha continues this theme of using the latest developments in audio technology to improve efficiency and ease of use, while managing to look good at the same time.
The first thing you notice about the Baha implant is its tiny size, quietly sitting on the surface of the skull just behind the ear. Then you notice that there is no actual earpiece at all.
The Baha delivers a clear, comfortable and natural hearing experience, bypassing the ear altogether, using that natural ability of bone to conduct sound.
The device consists of a high-performance sound processor and a small titanium implant, which is placed on the bone just behind the ear, where it fuses to the bone via a process called osseointegration (remember that one for Scrabble). Sound can then be conducted through the bone directly to the cochlea. Processing power that adapts to the acoustic environment
The Baha software processor automatically assesses the listening environment and immediately makes the necessary changes to produce optimum audio clarity for the user. This a real advance as attempting to manually adjust the settings on a hearing aid (finding those tiny buttons) when you're out on the road is a very difficult business, and one of the main reasons why users have abandoned hearing aids in the past.
The vulnerability of hearing aids can also be an issue, especially with children or older people, so the Baha includes tamper-resistant battery doors, a key lock function, and a titanium and plastic casing for maximum durability.
The BAHA comes in a range of colors and has an audio connector for FM systems, iPods and Bluetooth adapters.
Learning to use a hearing aid can be a really challenging experience - a bit like trying to learn to juggle. Having watched a friend of mine struggle with learning to use a hearing aid firsthand, I fully understand the situation. In the past there was a high failure rate with users.
People often found it just too difficult and frustrating to learn to use hearing aids, and didn't hang around long enough to get the benefits. There are many barely used hearing aids lying around in dusty drawers.
So how does the Baha stack up with those who really matter, the users? Independent research has shown that 89% of users preferred the Baha to traditional air conduction hearing aids.
One of the best features of the Baha, is that users can do a free trial before committing to the surgery required. The Baha can be connected to a test ban, that allows a client to experience the clarity of sound heard through bone conduction.
Visit the Cochlear website for more information.
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