Hearing Health Blog

Reversing the “Hearing Aid Effect”

Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers, Made for iPhone hearing aids, invisible hearing aids, starkey hearing technology, hearing test, hearing evaluation, hearing loss, starkey hearing foundation, deaf, ChicagoTrends have to start somewhere. In fashion, it’s on the runways of New York City or Paris. For music, content that spreads on social media makes songs and artists popular. And for sports, it’s TV and branding that makes certain athletes more popular than others, more “relatable” in a way. But what about hearing aids?

Unlike the commodities and persons above, the trends involving hearing aids aren’t specific to a brand or product. They are based on emotion, stigma and perception. The original hearing aid trend is referred to as the “hearing aid effect.”

The “hearing aid effect”
Years ago, wearing hearing aids made a statement, usually one the wearer didn’t want to make. Hearing aids of the 70s, 80s and early 90s were large, bulky, uncomfortable, hard to control, exhibited a whistling feedback and lent more embarrassment than assistance to the user. The negative term “the hearing aid effect” was born, associating hearing loss with the old or incapable.

Individuals viewed people with hearing aids as being less intelligent, less capable and essentially not “normal.” Early studies showed that children found other children with hearing aids less intelligent and less attractive (Dengerink & Porter, 1984; Silverman & Klees, 1989). A study with college students by Blood and Danaher in 1977 found that a series of photographs featuring boys with hearing aids were rated lower for intelligence, achievement, personality and appearance than the photographs featuring boys without hearing aids.

What’s changed?
Today’s culture is all about modern technology, sleek smartphones and following social trends started by celebrities and political figures. It is now commonplace to see ears adorned with technology. No one bats an eye or stops to decipher if someone is wearing an earbud for an MP3 player or a hearing aid. Both are accepted, even commonplace. Teenagers connect to music and movies using headphones. Business professionals connect to meetings using personalized audio equipment. Unlike the years before, we are now capable of providing necessary technology and satisfying the cosmetic desires of the public.

Hearing aids are now small, discreet and comfortable. Some are completely undetectable. More effective feedback management, wireless technology and the ability to function with smartphone devices to stream calls and media has led to overall improved lifestyle performance, which in turn calls less attention to someone’s hearing loss. Modern day hearing aids don’t denote lesser intelligence or capability. According to a 2014 study by Erik Rauterkus and Catherine Palmer, published as “The hearing aid effect in 2013” in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, hearing aids now actually demand increased levels of respect.

It isn’t only the sleeker designs and highly advanced technology that has contributed to this positive view. Researchers speculate that a combination of factors has positively contributed to the reduction in the “hearing aid effect.” Improvements in hearing aid design and performance as well as decreased size could all be factors. But there are three other factors that have similarly led to a positive outlook on hearing aids.

Unintentional camouflaging from the music, communications and fitness industries
The music and communications industries indirectly made hearing aids “OK” with the creation of ear-level devices such as headphones and earbuds for listening to music and Bluetooth headsets that allow people to take calls with no hands. The fitness world has made hearing aids more acceptable with headphones for running or biking. Bluetooth and listening devices are so commonplace today that no one thinks about them. They denote popularity, social commonalities, activity and cultural involvement. Many of these devices look similar to some hearing aids, making them more accepted by society.

Celebrities have hearing loss, too?
The awareness of prominent public figures and known celebrities with hearing loss has done a lot to reduce the stigma. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both were open about their hearing loss and use of Starkey Hearing Technologies’ hearing aids. Musicians such as Pete Townsend and Neil Young have likewise become open about discussing their hearing loss and use of hearing aids. NFL star Derrick Coleman put hearing aids on the map for athletes when he was fitted with the Made for iPhone hearing aids and became an advocate for the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

The increasing involvement of big name figures and companies has led to unquestioning social acceptance. Public figures are opening the floor for the discussion on hearing loss, and many have become social advocates for raising awareness and helping to battle hearing loss by working with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Musical superstars such as Matt Nathanson, along with renowned professional athletes from the NFL and NHL, Derrick Coleman and David Backes, are helping to raise awareness by participating in international mission trips year-round.

Apple and the iPhone Revolution
With iPhone popularity has come the need for Made For iPhone® (MFi) technology. Audibel released its Starkey Hearing Technology powered A3i product late in 2014. Because the A3i Made for iPhone is useable with iPhone and select Android™ products, but now they’ve released the A4i product and it’s quickly making hearing aids cool.

Hearing aids aren’t age-based, intelligence-based or for a certain segment of the population. They are sleek, smart, cool and for anyone and everyone with hearing loss, at any age and any time.

Check out our incredible products at www.chicagolandhearing.com to learn more about hearing aids today.


Warning Signs of Hearing Loss

WarningSignBlog_Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers_Starkey Hearing Technology_Audible_Chicago_Hearing Loss_Made for Iphone_Audiologist

Hearing loss is commonly referred to as an invisible health condition and early signs of hearing loss are often overlooked. Unlike other medical conditions, you can’t physically see the signs of hearing loss. Because the changes often occur gradually, it is quite common for individuals with hearing loss to find ways to cope and grow accustomed to reduced hearing acuity.

Family and friends are often the first to notice. In an article on CNN.com, audiologist Virginia Ramachandran explained, “People don’t always perceive that they need hearing aids, because hearing loss comes on gradually. Usually they are the last person to know. “

Recognizing Hearing Loss

The following questions can help identify common warning signs of hearing loss:

  • Do you have difficulty following conversations?
  • Do you ask others to repeat themselves?
  • Do you complain that people mumble or speak too fast?
  • It is difficult for you to hear and understand women and children?
  • Do you have ringing in your ears?
  • Do you have a favorite ear?
  • Do you have trouble hearing on the telephone?
  • Do you find yourself turning up the volume of your television?
  • Do others complain that you keep the volume of your television too loud?
  • Do you avoid noisy places?
  • Do you ever feel embarrassed about misunderstanding what others say to you?
  • Do you feel tired after listening in challenging environments?

 

Understanding Hearing Loss
Individuals with hearing loss have difficulty following conversations and understanding the voices of women and children. Most complain that people mumble or talk too fast. Hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus. A buildup of earwax, medication, exposure to loud sounds and hearing loss can all cause ringing in the ears, or tinnitus. The ringing might be constant or occasional, but it is often the first sign of hearing loss. Individuals with hearing loss may prefer one ear, reporting that they have a “good ear.” They may ask others to stand close to the better ear or speak directly into that ear. Those with hearing loss may even avoid challenging listening situations including conversations over the phone and noisy environments.

Treatment Options
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions listed here, schedule a complete hearing evaluation with Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers today! Effective treatments are available for hearing loss! The most common way to address hearing loss is with hearing aids, but occasionally medication or surgery is needed. A hearing consultation with a professional is the best way to find out if you have hearing loss and what options are available if you do.

Take the next step to restore your hearing. Early detection has been proven to create better treatment outcomes.


Repairing Your Hearing Aid

 Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers, Made for iPhone hearing aids, invisible hearing aids, starkey hearing technology, hearing test, hearing evaluation, hearing loss, starkey hearing foundation, deaf, ChicagoJust like a phone or computer, hearing aids are sophisticated devices that can provide years of benefit when cared for properly.  Because of their everyday use, even with every precaution taken, they are susceptible to the elements along with other variables life may throw your way.  If your dog used your hearing aid as a chew toy, or your hearing aid has a simple malfunction, we’ve got you covered.

Here are a few simple reminders about caring for your hearing aids if you do run into a problem:

  • Never attempt to repair your hearing aids yourself.  While do-it-yourself projects around the house may save you money, do-it-yourself repairs usually cause more damage than good to your hearing technology. If you run into a situation where you need a repair, report the problem immediately to your local provider’s office.
  • Never wear your hearing instruments in the shower or while swimming.
  • If your hearing instruments do get wet, never try any “quick drying” methods such as microwaves, hair dryers, or ovens.  Consult with your provider if your instruments are inoperable due to moisture.
  • Always place hearing instruments in a safe place out of reach of pets or children.
  • If your hearing instruments sound distorted or unclear, they may be in need of repair and you should consult with your provider immediately.
  • Visit your provider at least twice a year for follow-up care and routine service.  Hearing loss is dynamic, we recommend that you having your hearing tested at least once a year to make sure you are receiving the maximum benefit from your hearing instruments.

If you experience issues with your hearing instruments during your warranty period, simply bring them to our office.  In many cases, we’re able to fix the issue and find an immediate solution which saves you time and money.

If your hearing aids are experiencing a more complex problem, we may need to send them to the repair lab.  Because hearing aids become such an essential part of your life, we understand that even going a day without them can be disappointing and frustrating. Because of this, we work with our hearing aid factory for repairs, who prioritizes and realizes the value of quick turn-around time as much as we do.

You may be wondering, how much is this going to cost to fix? The cost of repair depends on 3 factors of whether or not the hearing aid is still under warranty, the extent of damage to the hearing aid, and the cost of replacement parts for you hearing aid.

If you purchased your hearing aids from us and they are still under warranty, your hearing aid repair cost will most likely be very small, or maybe even free! Old, or out of warranty hearing aids may have a repair cost associated with them which can range depending on whether or not their broken parts can be repaired or replaced.

What happens if you didn’t purchase your hearing aids from us? We are committed to better hearing regardless of who you purchased your hearing aids from.  That being said, we provide repairs for major brands such as Audibel, Starkey, Phonak, GN Resound, Siemens, Miracle Ear, Costco Kirkland, Unitron, Oticon and many more.

Whether you have a pair of hearing aids sitting in your desk drawer that have been broken for quite some time, or a hearing aid that you think may not be working like it used to, contact Chicagoland Audibel Hearing Aid Centers today to help evaluate your options.  Your hearing is our number one priority!


Audibel is Now in Chicago!

We’re growing! Please come visit us in our TWO new Chicago locations! As a gift, we will give you a free pack of batteries if you mention this webpage. Conveniently located in the South Loop Roosevelt Commons right off Roosevelt Ave, and Lincoln Park near the North Ave Whole Foods – call us today to schedule your appointment!

 

Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers_Starkey Hearing Technology_Audibel_invisible hearing aids_made for iphone hearing aids_outside lincoln park officeLincoln Park:

Chicagoland Audibel Hearing Aid Center
939 W North Ave #750, Chicago, IL, US
(224) 325-4327

View Map Here >

 

Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers_Starkey Hearing Technology_Audibel_outsideSouth Loop:

Chicagoland Hearing Aid Center
150 West Roosevelt Road Suite b201 Chicago, IL 60605
(224) 325-4327

View Map Here >


Hearing Aid Myths Exposed!

Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers_Audibel_Starkey Hearing Technologies_Made for iphone hearing aids_invisible hearing aids_hearing blog myths and factsSometimes we love to mislead ourselves by believing what we want to believe or believing what others tell us to believe.  As Dr. H. Gustav Mueller once said, “You have to hear what you don’t want to hear to know what you don’t want to hear.”  For example, did you know that Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb? Or did you know that cracking your knuckles really doesn’t lead to arthritis and that Thomas Crapper didn’t really invent the toilet?  There are a lot of examples of beliefs that we assume to be accurate, but it’s good every now and then to reevaluate what we think we know.

So how is your hearing knowledge? For many of us, it’s time to learn about some of the misconceptions about hearing loss and hearing aids.

MYTH: Hearing loss affects only “old people” and is merely a sign of aging.
TRUTH:
Actually it is the reverse of what most people think. 65% of people with hearing loss are younger than age 65. There are more than six million people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 44 with hearing loss, and nearly one and a half million are school age. Hearing loss affects all age groups.

MYTH: If I had a hearing loss, my family doctor would have told me.
TRUTH: Only 13% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss during a physical.

Since most people with hearing impairments hear well in quiet environments like a doctor’s office or examining room, it can be virtually impossible for your physician to recognize the extent of your problem. Without special training, and an understanding of the nature of hearing loss, it may be and can be very difficult for your doctor to even realize you have a hearing problem.

MYTH: My hearing loss is normal for my age.
TRUTH: Although it may be more common for loss at your age, it is not necessarily normal. But…isn’t it strange how we look at things? It happens to be “NORMAL” for overweight people to have high blood pressure. That doesn’t mean they should not receive treatment for the problem.

MYTH: I can wait until my hearing gets a lot worse before I have to do something about it.
TRUTH:
The longer a person waits to take care of their hearing, the less a hearing aid will do for them in the future. You may suffer auditory deprivation, a possible speech impediment, and remember- untreated hearing loss carries the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s disease.

MYTH: My hearing loss is not that big of a deal. I can live with it.
TRUTH: According to the 1990 National Center for Health Statistics, hearing loss is listed as the third leading cause of health problems in individuals over the age of 50. Arthritis and Hypertension are one and two.

MYTH: My hearing loss does not affect anyone accept me.
TRUTH: Your hearing affects everyone around you, including the ones who love you the most.

MYTH: Hearing aids are too expensive.
TRUTH: Some flat screen televisions sell for $8,000 or more, but this doesn’t make us say,  “All TVs are too expensive.” Just like TVs, hearing aids range in cost depending on features and performance. You can almost always  find hearing aids that fit your budget and lifestyle. The value of better hearing and a better life is almost always well worth the cost.

MYTH: You can save money buying hearing aids online.
TRUTH:
You wouldn’t purchase a pair of prescription glasses on the internet without consulting your eye doctor, because your glasses need to fit your vision loss. Buying hearing aids is the same.
Sure, visiting a hearing specialist may be more costly, but take into account what you get for the price.  You can be confident that you get the right hearing aid with the right fitting and settings, along with follow-up care, adjustments, cleanings, instructions, repair services, and more. It’s well worth it.

MYTH: I have friends that wear hearing aids and it does not seem to help them.

TRUTH: It is true that some people do not do as well as others with hearing aids. Just remember this:  we all do not get the same eyesight clarity with glasses, but we still do not want to be without them. The longer you wait to correct your hearing; the less you will get in return. You have one set of ears –  take care of them.

If you feel you have a hearing loss, you’re not alone. What keeps you alone is not finding the help that is needed to correct the situation. Help is just a phone call away. If you or someone you know is suffering from this debilitating problem, please contact us today for a hearing exam. Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers has 14 convenient locations across the Chicagoland area. We can guide you in the direction you need to go for proper hearing care.

For confirmation of the information provided above and any additional facts see:

http://list25.com/25-popular-myths-debunked/5/

www.betterhearing.org


We’ll be back in 5! – Gone to the Starkey Hearing Expo…

Chicagoland Hearing_Audibel_Starkey Hearing AidsNot really! Our doors are still open, but owners Benjamin Wright and Sarah Sommers are spending 5 days in Las Vegas for the premier event for independent hearing professionals. The Starkey Hearing Expo features industry experts and global thought leaders. We can’t wait until they get back to hear all about how Starkey Technologies is revolutionizing the hearing aid industry and bringing new technology to our patients. Chicagoland Hearing is proud to bring the power of Starkey Technology to our patients! Want to learn more about the event and how Starkey Technologies are redefining the industry and patient experience? Visit:

http://www.bloomberg.com/research/markets/news/article.asp?docKey=600 201601201307PRIMZONEFULLFEED10159369-1

http://www.starkey.com/


Hidden Hearing Loss?

hearing-loss_hidden-hearing-loss_hearing-aids-costco_costco-hearing-aids_hearing-aids-chicago_hearing-aids-niles_hearing-aids-wheaton_hearing-bloomingdaleHearing loss patient Jeff Larcomb could pass a standard hearing test just fine. But he still could not figure out what others said while in a noisy room.

“It’s impossible… As soon as there’s competing sound, it’s all mushed together,” Larcomb said.

“I’m staring really intently at people and trying to follow their mouth and stuff like that,” Larcomb continued. “It’s just not normal behavior, right, and people are kind of like, ‘What’s this guy’s deal?'”

The reason patients such as Larcomb struggled deciphering speech in noisy situations had been previously unexplained by audiologists.

New research has now named the condition hidden hearing loss.

“Hidden hearing loss… may very well explain a substantial number of these people who have trouble hearing in background noise,” audiologist James Hall said.

Researchers studied young adults who may have regularly overexposed their ears to loud sounds and found that hidden hearing loss was associated with a disorder deep in the auditory system.

The condition may also play a role in tinnitus, an experience where some hear ringing in their ears.

Though not yet an official diagnosis, hidden hearing loss proves a promising start for frustrated patients.

“I’m really excited about that because what I think it does is it gives credence to the fact that this patient population exists,” audiologist Gail Whitelaw said.

As the research is new, there is no targeted treatment or cure.

For now, audiologists said hearing aids can help in some cases, as can a greater personal awareness of the effect of background noise.

Call Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers today to set up a free hearing evaluation.


Introducing A3i BTE 13!

Chicagoland Audibel Hearing Aid Centers in Niles Bloomingdale and Wheaton_made for iphone hearing aidWe are excited to introduce the new A3i™ BTE 13, our newest Made for iPhone® Hearing Aid. With the addition of the BTE 13 and our latest advances to our Made for iPhone Hearing Aids – the A3i family continues to break new ground leading the way in performance, personalization and connectivity.

Our benchmark operating system,BluWave® 4.0, is now at the heart of all A3i BTE 13 and RIC 13 products enabling us to continually optimize audibility, comfort and sound quality to deliver Audibel Superior Sound. A3i delivers what patients want:

  • A more natural listening experience through Binaural Spatial Mapping and Active Noise Control2
  • Superior audibility in noisy environments thanks to our multichannel adaptive solution to directionality, Active Directional Detection and Voice Detect
  • Distortion-free comfort in loud situations with ISO-Clear Compression
  • Make control adjustments a thing of the past with Auto Experience Manager

Audibel’s patient-preferred TruLink™ Hearing Control app has been updated to include even more features that enhance streaming and hearing in noise to helps our patients hear better, live better and have a healthier life. With Stream Boost, our patients can have an automatic setting that boosts any incoming media stream for enhanced audio performance, while Comfort Boost allows them to aggressively reduce noise to optimize sound quality in noisy environments.

A3i connects hearing and health to make life better!


The man who ate his hearing aids


Man eats hearing aid_chicagoland audibel hearing aid center in bloomingdale niles and wheaton ilWe recently stumbled across a news article about a man you accidentally ate his hearing aids thinking they were cashews. You can read the full story here. Though this is obviously an extreme case of failing vision, we thought we would use the incident to remind our patients that our Bloomingdale office is located within the Wohl Eye Center.

Studies have show that there is a direct correlation between vision and hearing loss in adults in older persons. This sensory decline can have a cumulative effect on well-being, quality of life and connection to family and friends. Call today to book your hearing and vision examinations!  See our full post on our eye and ear center in Bloomingdale here.


What My Hearing Aid Taught Me…

The Atlantic_Chicagoland Audibel Hearing Aid Centers in Niles Wheaton and Bloomingdale IL

 

Cool techy article out from the Atlantic on hearing aids as “wearables.” …

What My Hearing Aid Taught Me About the Future of Wearables

By Ryan Budish

I was into wearables before there was Google Glass, Apple Watch, or the Moto 360. I was into them before cheap devices told you how much you had walked, run, slept, or eaten. In fact, I’ve been into them for so long now that I’m not quite sure when it started. I think it was around when I was 5, in 1986.

The wearables I started wearing as a kid and still wear today are hearing aids—or, as my audiologist euphemistically calls them, “amplification devices.” Although many will never need hearing aids, today’s tech firms are making it likely that, someday soon, tiny computers will become extensions of your body, just as they have been part of mine for nearly 30 years. Thanks to that experience, I feel as though I’ve had a sneak peek into our wearable future—and I can make some predictions about what it will look like.

To be fair, hearing aids are quite different from the current array of consumer wearables. Hearing aids are medical devices designed to make up for a physical impairment. By contrast, consumer wearables like the Apple Watch are luxury items that let us read text messages and measure our fitness. This distinction has legal significance: The FDA tightly regulates any device that tries to either diagnose or treat a medical condition. That means certain features are unlikely to ever exist in a consumer wearable, unless Tim Cook wants to sell watches that require a doctor’s prescription.

But despite initial appearances, both medical and consumer wearables share a few important goals.

Broadly speaking, both types of wearables aim to fill gaps in human capacity. As Sara Hendren aptly put it, “all technology is assistive technology.” While medical devices fill gaps created by disability or illness, consumer wearables fill gaps created by being human. For example, evolution hasn’t given us brain wi-fi, yet.

Both kinds of wearables also need to justify being attached to our bodies. This seems pretty obvious for hearing aids, but it is just as true for consumer devices. A wearable that serves as only a slightly more convenient screen for your phone is hardly reason for the average person to spend hundreds of dollars. Instead, wearables need to offer a feature that works best when in close contact with your body, like measuring heart rate or offering haptic feedback.

Also, both types of wearables need to embed themselves seamlessly into our experiences. If a wearable obstructs your experience of the real world, or is a distraction, it’s likely to end up on a shelf instead of your wrist. That’s not to say that they don’t take getting used to—even after a lifetime of wearing hearing aids, it still takes me several weeks to adjust to a new pair. But after that period, a well-made wearable should seem like a seamless extension of our bodies.

In my current role at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, I’m lucky to be able to study something I care deeply about: technology’s impact on our lives. I’m sure my interest partly arises from how I’ve depended on technology for as long as I can remember. I don’t know with certainty how consumer wearables will develop, but what I do know is how much hearing aids have changed over the last 30 years. And I have some insight into what sensory-enhancing wearables—like hearing aids, and unlike data-recording wearables like pedometers—could someday become. Over the next few years, I expect that we will see four trends, rich in both opportunity and peril, shape the evolution of these wearables from toys into tools.

* * *

1. Wearables will create substitute realities.

A man adjusts his hearing aid using his iPhone. (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

In order to justify being part of our bodies, wearables need to offer something beyond an additional screen or input device. This means that sensory-enhancing wearables will need to mediate between reality and our experiences, altering our perception of the world around us.

For hearing aids, that role is enhancing sound, replacing the too-soft sounds of the real world with louder, more comprehensible ones. But modern hearing aids don’t simply make everything louder; instead, they provide a substitute soundscape tailored to my needs and my environment. When I go into a loud restaurant, the devices can identify the clatter of glasses and the din of conversation, and tune out those sounds, while tuning into the sound of a nearby voice. The result is an audio experience that is substantially different from the objective reality; the device replaces a reality that would be challenging with a substitute that is easier to understand and utilize.

Just as hearing aids replace one soundscape with another, future wearables will be able to alter the way we experience the world. Microsoft’s recently announced HoloLens, for example, will be able to help a homeowner perform their own electrical repairs by projecting instructions, visuals aids, and even expert advice right onto an exposed electrical outlet. In that way, future wearables will replace traditional sensory or communications experiences with ones that are richer and deeper.

2. Wearables will be ruled by algorithms.

The process of substituting realities means that our perceptions of the world around us will become increasingly mediated by algorithms that we do not control or even understand. The world I hear through my hearing aids is a world interpreted and translated through millions of calculations a second. Algorithms determine whether a sound in the distance is the whir of a refrigerator compressor or the whisper of your friend. If it works correctly, I may not hear the compressor at all. But if it works incorrectly, I may not hear my friend at all.

Medical devices are already increasingly ruled by complex algorithms. Just as hearing aid algorithms determine what sounds are amplified and what sounds are muted, pacemaker algorithms determine when to deliver an electronic pulse to the heart. And bionic pancreas algorithms determine when to deliver additional insulin. In these examples, the algorithms don’t just shape the perception of reality—they make life-saving decisions.

The influence of algorithms is nothing new. They shape a lot of what we perceive online. When used in wearable devices that shape our perceptions of the world around us, algorithms can have a profound impact. For example, a device that reads facial expressions to assess moods could affect how you approach your boss, or whether you think your significant other is mad at you. Or a device that hides stressful visual stimuli could remove an annoying ad on your subway commute, but it could just as easily remove a helpful PSA. As wearables do more to reshape our realities, the way we perceive the world will become increasingly shaped by the algorithms that govern those devices.

Not only does that make our perceptions increasingly dependent on algorithms, but it makes our perceptions increasingly dependent on the people who make those algorithms. My hearing aids use increasingly complex algorithms. Although a trained audiologist can adjust the devices to my unique needs, as the algorithms become more complex, the opportunities for customization become paradoxically more limited. My hearing aids, for example, have 20 independently adjustable audio channels, and while my audiologist can adjust each one, he usually adjusts them in groups of 6 or 7 channels at a time. If consumer wearables don’t offer significant opportunities for customization (or provide access to an expert who can help customize the experience), it will leave users even more dependent on the default algorithms.

3. Wearables will fail invisibly.

Stephen Lam/Reuters

The more we rely on wearables to interpret the outside world for us, it will become critical for devices to communicate failures. And the more seamless the experience of wearables becomes, the harder it is to know when it isn’t working as intended.

In some cases failures are obvious: If my hearing aid doesn’t turn on, then I can take steps to address the issue. However, in other cases failure is less obvious. At a meeting a few months ago, I was sitting near a loud air conditioner that made it difficult to hear the people across the table. I knew my hearing aids should reduce the background noise, but because the aids produce sounds using complex, personalized algorithms, I had no way of knowing whether the hearing aids were malfunctioning or whether the air conditioner was just too loud. The more personalized the device and the subjective experience it creates, the harder it is to know when things are going wrong.

Future wearables will likely do incredibly complex things, and when the results are unexpected we may trust that the device knows best, privy to secret knowledge or power. But sometimes it will just be wrong. Identifying whether what we see or hear is the proper functioning, the outcome of an inscrutable algorithm, or simply a failure, may be quite challenging.

4. Wearables will record everything.

If failures are hard to detect, the solution is just as challenging: pervasive recording. The more the behavior of wearables is dependent on context and inputs, the more that troubleshooting requires data collection. After a plane crash, one of the first things that investigators look for is the “black box” flight data recorder, because it is often impossible to reconstruct what went wrong without also knowing things like the airspeed, the throttle, and the position of the flaps and gears. Troubleshooting wearables presents many of the same challenges.

When I go to my audiologist, I can tell him that I didn’t think my hearing aids worked correctly at a noisy restaurant a few weeks ago. But without a record of the the noisy environment and the sound I heard from the aids, he can only guess about what happened. For the user, this trial-and-error form of troubleshooting can be frustrating, especially when it involves multiple trips to the audiologist for readjustments.

Up until recently, the idea of storing gigabytes of data on a hearing aid would have been absurd. The devices didn’t have sufficient storage and persistent recording would sap the already-limited battery life. But the newest hearing aids now record certain types of data for diagnostic purposes. If I raise or lower the volume on the aids, the device records information about the new setting and lets my audiologist download the data at a later date. As data storage becomes cheaper and power efficiency improves, the collection of additional data could help the device be better fitted to my needs and enable better troubleshooting.

The same drive toward additional data collection will happen in consumer wearables as well. How do you know if your mood-identifying glasses are working correctly? That requires knowing both the input (the image of someone’s face or their voice) and the output (the identified mood). It would be easy to store still images of faces for diagnostic purposes and troubleshooting, and just as easy to upload them to the device manufacturer to help improve their algorithms.

In some cases, storage may not even be necessary as consumer wearables might transmit everything in real time to centralized servers for processing. With limited processing power and battery life, wearables might offload computationally intensive processing to centralized computers. This is what Apple does (or used to do) with Siri, where at least some analysis of your voice request is processed on remote Nuance servers. Although this enables more complex analysis than small wearables might be able to do otherwise, it also creates greater privacy concerns as more data is transmitted to, stored by, and kept by others.

* * *

When I got my first pair of hearing aids, they were large and analog, and my audiologist made adjustments to the sound outputs using a small screwdriver. My hearing aids today are so small they can fit invisibly in the ear canal, and my audiologist adjusts them wirelessly on computer. The pace of progress has been astounding, and I have no doubt that progress has changed my life for the better in significant and concrete ways.

The price of progress, however, is complexity. Older hearing aids had limited customization, altered sounds in very basic and predictable ways, failed in obvious ways, and didn’t collect data. Now things are different. The endless customization available in new aids creates more opportunities for mistakes. The complex algorithms make it harder to diagnose problems. The total substitution of experience stifles attempts to identify errors. And increasing data collection means hearing aids may soon have to grapple with thorny issues of privacy.

The same holds true for consumer wearables. If they follow the path of hearing aids, future generations of wearables will be more immersive, more complex, more difficult to troubleshoot, and more pervasive in their data collection. As long as we see wearables as toys or luxury goods, it is easy to write off these challenges. But there is a real opportunity for wearables to improve the lives of many in substantial ways just as they’ve improved my life since 1986. To realize those improvements, we cannot ignore these trends, and we must take wearables seriously as the indispensable tools they will soon become.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/02/what-my-hearing-aid-taught-me-about-the-future-of-wearables/385145/