Portable consumer electronics have come a long way in the past thirty years. In the past, you could listen to your favorite music on a portable cassette player which required large batteries that had to be changed frequently. Now, listening to music is as easy as taking a computer out of your pocket and playing a digital file on a device you can charge when you go to bed. Most portable consumer electronics today are rechargeable devices. So why have hearing aids been slow to adapt to this type of technology?
Hearing aids are complex tools which require a power source that is reliable and constant. Zinc-air batteries have been the gold standard power source for hearing aids and still continue to dominate the market. Zinc air batteries are relatively inexpensive and have a high endurance relative to other battery types. A hearing aid needs to perform well throughout the entire lifecycle of the battery. Zinc-air batteries perform at a high level up to their dying breath. Imagine a hearing aid that only works half as well when the battery is half-depleted. So the answer is, why invest in changing something that works so well? Due to demand, manufacturers have started to invest in rechargeable options for patients.
Rechargeable hearing aids have been around for the better part of a decade but older models were plagued with engineering issues which made using the devices somewhat confusing and cumbersome. More recently hybrid hearing aid types have been available on the market. These devices can use traditional zinc-air batteries or can use a rechargeable form of the same battery which requires recharge and infrequent changing.
Let’s look at some hybrid-type hearing devices.
Unitron Moxi Fit R hearing aids are flagship products in the Unitron catalog. These devices are normally fit with a 312 battery which requires a new battery approximately every week. This device can be retro-fit with a battery door which changes the hearing aid to a fully-rechargeable device. One overnight charge will allow the hearing aid to function for 24 hours. These batteries typically need to be replaced every year. This device features Bluetooth and TV connectivity using the Udirect 3 or Ustream.
Resound LiNX 3d 312 Rechargeable RIE are from the GNResound catalog. Like the Unitron Moxi Fit R hearing aids, they are interchangeable between a 312 zinc air battery and a rechargeable battery with a modification to the battery door. One feature advantage is that the device comes with built-in direct connectivity to an Apple iPhone 5 and newer without the need of an ancillary device. An overnight charge will only last 16 hours or 14 hours with direct streaming. The batteries for this hearing aid also need to be replaced approximately every year.
Some manufacturers are offering rechargeable-only hearing solutions. These devices do not take traditional batteries. Their batteries are built-in and designed to last many years. Due to the need to have a battery cell designed to last the life of the hearing aid, they are slightly larger than the hybrid devices. However, they do eliminate the need to ever purchase batteries.
Hansaton Sound SHD S RIC hearing aids are from the Hansaton catalog. With a built-in lithium ion battery, these hearing aids are designed to last for 24 hours after just a three hour charge. There is no need to ever replace a battery. The devices fit into a sleek charger and the charging is done by small contacts on the outside of the hearing aid.
Signia Cellion PX hearing aids are from the Signia/Siemens product catalog. They are designed for overnight charging and battery life which will last 24 hours. Instead of using contacts for charging, they simply drop into a charging docket and use inductive charging. This can be a nice option for patients with dexterity issues.
Phonak currently has three options in their product portfolio for rechargeable devices.
Phonak Audeo B R is a standalone RIC hearing aid. Similar in style to the Hansaton Sound SHD S RIC, it incorporates charging via contacts to deliver 24 hours on a single overnight charge.
Phonak Bolero B PR is a standard BTE device and the only BTE device among the major manufacturers that delivers rechargeable capabilities.
Phonak Naida B R is a power RIC hearing aid. This device offers a rechargeable option for persons with severe to profound hearing impairment.
The future of hearing aids is almost certainly rechargeable. Right now, no rechargeable custom hearing aids exist on the market. As time goes, look for manufacturers to begin offering rechargeable devices in other types of product offerings.