According to research at the Better Hearing Institute only about 7 in 10 hearing aid users are either "satisfied" or "very satisfied with the Fit and Comfort of their hearing aids. There is good news though for the 50% of users who need ear molds for their hearing aids. We may in the next few years be entering into a new generation of superior fit and functionality for custom fit hearing aids, thanks to molds based on a 3D imaging technique.
Currently if you need ear molds the hearing health professional fills a patient's ear canals with a silicone substance that is hardened into a mold from which the hearing aid would be constructed. The molds are only so detailed, which means the fits are only so tight. Perfection of fit is critical to optimization of the hearing aid user's experience.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have taken a new approach with a stretchy, balloon-like membrane inserted into the ear canal and then inflated to take on the canal's detailed shape. They then fill that membrane with a fluorescent dye that a tiny fiber-optic camera inside the balloon can scan in a matter of seconds.
Because the camera captures 3D images so fast, it is also able to measure how the contours of the ear canal change with pressure, or with motion such as chewing and talking, measurements that could even further improve the fit of hearing aids, as well as earphones used with MP3 players and earplugs for, say, military personnel.
The developer of the new ear-mold technique is Douglas Hart, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. The system was patented in January and Dr. Hart has founded a company to bring it to market. The team is now building a handheld version of the device that they plan to study, comparing the fit of hearing aids built with the new scanner to that of traditional aids.
This is good news for hearing aid users. But consider, how do you train an entire network of hearing healthcare professionals (HHP) in this new technique and to abandon a technique some have been using for 50 years?
Will the equipment be cost effective to motivate the HHP to purchase this equipment? After all, other equally important pieces of equipment or processes such as a hearing aid analyzer (for testing hearing aid functionality), real ear measurement device (for verifying the hearing aid fit), objective benefit measures (for determining how much better a person hears with hearing aids) and even a sound booth for conducting hearing tests with reliability are not being used today in fitting hearing aids.
While the 3-D imaging technique for achieving a better hearing aid fit is considered the "Holy Grail" to the hearing aid industry, in this author's opinion the other factors above should be considered as part of the "Holy Grail" of the hearing aid fitting process. We have determined that good hearing aid fitting processes = good hearing aid user outcomes in a previous extensive publication on this topic. Certainly better ear molds should be part of a superior hearing aid fitting protocol.
For full article see: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/hearing-aid-0520.html