Can a Smartphone App Replace Your Hearing Aid?

A recent study published in The Hearing Review addresses the question of whether a smartphone application would be a sufficient substitution for a hearing aid.

The study compares the participants subjective opinion of two smartphone apps and a traditional hearing aid, as well as compares objective measures of how well the participant performs in noise when using the smartphone apps and the hearing aids.

Some benefits of using a smartphone application versus a hearing aid, include:

  • Less expensive
  • Provides the user with immediate assistance
  • Ability to adjust volume
  • Not subjected to the negative stigma that hearing aids can have

In the study, each participant was between the age of 50 and 90 years old, had a mild-to-moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, and had been wearing hearing aids for less than 3 months.

The participants used the two smartphone apps, EARs and Microphone, on an Apple iPod Touch with hardwired in-ear headphone and inline microphone attached to their shirt. The hearing aids used were economy level behind-the-ear hearing aids with all their advanced features disabled. They wore each of the three devices for 2-3 weeks before subjective and objective measurements were collected.

Results of the speech-in-noise objective testing indicated that the participants did significantly better with all three devices than they did with no device (unaided). However, there was no significant difference in the performance between the hearing aid and both smartphone apps. The researchers note that this may be due to microphone placement of the hearing aid versus the smartphone apps.

When comparing the surveys of the participants, the two smartphone applications provided significant subjective benefit compared to unaided, while the hearing aid did not provide clinically significant subjective benefit.

The satisfaction survey indicated that participants were significantly more satisfied with the hearing aid versus the two smartphone apps and they were overwhelmingly more willing to recommend the hearing aids to family and friends than the two smartphone apps.

When reading this study, there are a few concerns I have:

  1. The hearing aids advanced features were disabled. Therefore, the study does not take into account the signal processing capabilities that the hearing aids can provide.
  2. Users were given the capability to make volume and frequency-response adjustments to the smartphone applications when wearing them, while no controls were given to the users with the hearing aids to make changes. The authors even suggest that hearing aid controls-minimally a volume control-can give the wearer the benefit perception that they perceived with the smartphone apps.

This study indicates that while there are measurable improvements in speech-in-noise testing with smartphone application use versus no device use, the subjective satisfaction of users is significantly better with hearing aid use as compared to smartphone use.

The study authors suggest that smartphone application use be used as only a temporary assistance before moving to hearing aids.

Smartphone applications are not a permanent solution for hearing loss management (yet).

If you are looking for a new hearing aid you can find local hearing centers offering the latest hearing aid tech with our free online tool.

With all that said, we’ve gone ahead and put together a list of the best apps for hearing loss. You can check it out here.

Comments

  1. Merle Smith says:

    Hello . I’m considered deaf by miracle ear test. I can ear my bluetooth better than my $ 7000.00 hearing aids. I would rather wear two plantonics bluetooths to hear with than these miracle ear pieces of crap & still answer my phone. Thank you GOD BLESS HAVE A BLESSED DAY

    1. Hi Merle
      I can understand your frustration. Sometimes wireless bluetooth devices are better to hear the phone with because it is a direct audio signal. However, they will not help you hear better in everyday face-to-face conversations. I would encourage you to take a look at our Made for iPhone hearing aid article and consider something like this in the future: https://www.everydayhearing.com/hearing-aids/articles/the-first-made-for-iphone-hearing-aids/

    2. tiana says:

      Hello… I’m so glad for your post. I’m currently looking every where to help my husband find where he can get a blue tooth that he can use as a hearing aid like before see he had been given by a friend some time back a blue tooth that he connected to the phone and he was able to hear now all the other hearing amplifiers and aids dont seem to be as good like you have said. And the hearing docter swears he hasn’t heard of them…would you please let me know where you bought the blue tooth from thanks

  2. mark says:

    There are many apps on the appstore trying to develop a soundbooster for hard of hearing or a kind of hearing aid, considered that the technology on modern headphones or bluetooth headphones or on the newer airpods by apple, is very advanced. So can a smartphone app replace your hearing aid? Probably not at the moment but many signals make us think that in next future apps could really replace it, smartphones have all tools needed to work as hearing aid: microphones to capture audio , power of calculation to quickly adapt and equalize sounds, and of course hearphones or airpods as output for best quality.

    I have already tried an app for apple iphone called Fennex Augmented Hearing app which is proposed to be a soundbooster/enhancer and in the next future seems to have the potential to be a hearing aid competitor and it is specifically designed to work with airpods.

  3. richard says:

    Yes it sems to be possible to have hearing aids replaced by smartphone app, these many apps in store could give us a perfect view of what would be the next future of the hearing solutions. In effect this fennex app it is already a good choice for whose do not want to buy an hearing aid. This app is really full of interesting features , to have an idea of how good these hearing apps are you could also take a look at this article:

    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608597/how-your-apple-wireless-earbuds-could-double-hearing-aids/

  4. Dishan says:

    can you please provide me the study that you have done?
    thank you!

  5. Mark says:

    For anyone less than 40 years old, maybe with a young family in tow, $7000 for a pair of hearing aids is unreal. No insurance plan I have seen covers hearing aids, they’d probably all go Bankrupt.

  6. Nancy Boutilette says:

    I have a galaxy and I notice every app the noise is delayed like speech.
    I Ann advanced lip reader and with a mild old cheap hear ing aid (Desperate need of new ones or SOMETHING) I am still paying off my last aid and it’s very static, I am just flabbergasted because NJ horizon NJ health & Medicare aren’t helpful as far as 3 years ago j went to free hold NJ and they kept me from having aids needing a denial letter from medicare?? What?? Medicare don’t cover we all know tbis! I almost felt like they set me up toddy anyway.
    Long story … but going too look at these apps

    1. Robert Roy says:

      Try Embrace Hearing, High Quality aids at less than half price ( a pair for less than half price of others) not just an amplifier, I’m a not just saying this but I’m an owner & user of their hearing aides, first rate customer service, high quality hearing aid. These folks are Internet only but to calm your fears, I’ve purchased thru internet with out problems, the only thing they stipulate is you must supply a valid current hearing test in order to program HA to your best enhancement, here are aides features:
      Dual directional mic’s
      8-12 circuits
      TeleCoil (phone’s)
      RIC behind ear or RIC MODELS
      Remote volume control with cell phone
      Programable
      Digital
      Background noise canceling feature
      At my hearing test this year, I was offered a pair with the exact same same features for $8000, a price I cannot afford on a fixed income of Social Security but I examined the model that was offered me & on leaving the test, I wrote all the features down & began shopping when I found on the Internet, I read many, many reviews of Embrace’s customer’s (about 100) within those only 4-5 in 100 were stating some form of dissatisfaction from ill fitting to mechanical malfunction, 2 sent *hem back for a refund, the other 2 had them repaired ( bad mics) & we’re satisfied users. I know this sounds like an ad man pitch but I’m so thrill with the sound quality you can’t understand till you get one ( I do not work for Embrace nor have they contacted me or paid me for this comment) Seetheir website@ Embrace.com. Thanks

  7. Dick says:

    Try Costco their hearings aids start at $1400+ to $2800+ a pair. And work as well as the ones from Hearing stores

  8. Lynn Prentice says:

    I’m rapidly approaching 60, and I’m a commercially active c++ programmer for the last 30 odd years (and politics nut for evene longer). What I’m puzzled about is the kind of apps that this topic is looking at.

    The ObjectiveC in Apple sucks anything real time, and so does iOS. For that matter using Java is just about as bad. Having a 80-130ms delay (described in other posts on the same topic) is pretty much what I’d expect. These aren’t exactly interrupt driven operating systems. They barely qualify as cooperative.

    It doesn’t feel to me that there would be any significiants delays in using software at the C/C++ (using the android NDK layer for instance) and directly driving any DSP firmware. Once you get below 40ms, humans shouldn’t be able to detect any particular delays.

    I routinely code on processors that are at least an order of magnitude slower than what is available on a modern cellphone (800Mz single core ARM9), and they are more than capable of doing some pretty sophisticated DSP in realtime.

    There might be delays in the BLE (especially in any Apple product). That’s where I would look for delays.

    1. Tom says:

      What we need is an app that starts off testing frequency levels of the user to determine what they can or can’t hear. From that a file of custom parameters could be derived to control the hearing aid app, to amplify the appropriate frequencies, giving a balanced hearing experience. Additionally, noise filters would be needed to eliminate unwanted background sounds. The testing function would be most critical wait would need to test different frequencies at different decibel levels. Also, being able to run on a non iPhone system would be great.

  9. Deeksha says:

    Can you please give the reference of the original paper. I need it for my research. Thanks in advance

  10. RussR says:

    What all of us with severe hearing disabilities want is speaker recognition in noisy environments. Something current hearing aids are woefully poor at. It seems that AI has made some big strides in this area. The computation required is beyond the ability of hearing aid processors but not the new cellphones with separate chips for AI. With the more powerful processing ability of cell phones one would think this possible.

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