- Hearing aids can be customized, connected to the phone, and translated into foreign languages in real time.
- Starkey is one of the world’s largest hearing aid companies developing these technologies.
- We went inside the company headquarters in Minnesota to see how the industry was changing.
Hearing aids can be customized, connected to the phone, and translated into foreign languages in real time. We went inside one of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers to see how the industry is changing.
The following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: A piece of silicone is the beginning of hearing aid. The device is machine-designed and hand-finished. But now it is not just used for basic hearing. This custom help can connect to your phone, isolate sounds, and even translate into another language in real time.
Paul New: Did we pick up trash tonight?
Employee: Yes, of course, Paolo.
Narrator: We visited the world’s largest hearing aid companies to learn more. Between 38 and 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. This is about the population of Canada or Spain. Currently, only 20% of adults in the United States need hearing aids. And believe it or not, there is only one traditional hearing aid manufacturer that is owned and operated by the United States. Starkey was founded in 1967. Since then, it has developed tens of millions of devices.
Brendan Swalich: Starkey has more than 5,000 employees. We do business in more than 100 countries, and we change people’s lives through better hearing.
Narrator: It’s a big business that starts with the smallest measure. Inside Starky’s headquarters, a silicone impression of the ear passes through a 3D scanner that captures all of its unique aspects. The machine prints the acrylic shell, which contains all the electronic components. And a special software helps the technician determine how to make the smallest, most comfortable hearing aid for this patient’s ear and prescription. Since the final custom product is assembled by hand, the whole process can take up to four days. For Chef Paul New, some features of his Starky Hearing Aid have been essential to his work in the kitchen.
Paul: I can answer my phone while I’m fishing. I don’t need to touch anything. I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to talk to people.
Narrator: Chef Paul received his first hearing aid 14 years ago.
Paul: It was almost like you were in Chuck E Cheese, with lots of lights, bells, whistles.
Narrator: But higher prices are part of the reason why so many adults are not getting them. Right now, a set of hearing aids in the US can cost from $ 700 to $ 10,000.
Barbara Kelly: So, about one third of the cost of the device, but then you have the services that you really need.
Narrator: There are also limited options.
Nicholas Reid: There are really only five big hearing aid companies in the world, and they are very integrated, in which you can hear many different brand names of hearing aids, but these are really the five companies that control the whole thing.
Narrator: During the epidemic, the hearing aid industry saw an unexpected growth.
Nicholas: I think when you have something like universal masking, a lot of people realize how much they actually rely on unconscious lip reading.
Narrator: And the industry is undergoing another major transformation. In 2017, legislation was passed for counter hearing instruments. Tech companies like Bose and Apple are entering the market. But Starky says these over-the-counter devices will only be for people with mild or moderate hearing loss, and most Americans will still need personalized fittings and professional care. The number of deaf people in the United States will almost double by 2060 as the elderly population continues to grow. And studies show that when left untreated, it can have serious consequences for overall health.
Paul: You put so much pressure on my hearing that I was actually shaking physically, and I didn’t know why. And then I got hearing aids, and then everything stopped. The level of stress for listening was just over.
Narrator: As the industry opens up, hopefully any barriers to hearing loss will be removed and these devices will become more accessible to everyone.