Jeanne Strathman, president of the Advanced Hearing Center in Beulah, tunes us into what’s new with hearing aids, which are so essential to a vibrant quality of life. Recognized by the State of Michigan as an expert in the field, Strathman has been national board certified in Hearing Instruments since 1992. Strathman also helped found a campaign to donate used hearing aids to people in need in Ethiopia and Mexico.

The importance of hearing seems obvious—yet current research is revealing tha there is so much more to the science of hearing than has been previously understood.

“Definitely. Achin Bhowmik, the chief technology officer at Starkey Hearing Technologies [a leading manufacturer of hearing aids], calls the ear the pathway to the brain. We know hearing loss is connected to a number of significant health issues including dementia, depression and cardiovascular disease. Hearing is so fundamental that the symptoms of hearing loss mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. One study showed that 70 percent of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia were actually only suffering hearing loss. When words are not getting through to the brain you begin to decipher language differently and consequently respond differently.

“On top of all of that, when you can’t hear, your relationships are severely affected.”

All that science must be inspiring innovation. Bring us up to speed on what is going on in the field.

“The latest thing is hearing aids with artificial intelligence and the ability to control them from your phone or computer. Besides providing quality sound, Starkey’s new Livio Ai hearing aids have sensors that can track your general health and fitness and also detect if you’ve fallen and then send a message to your contacts. They can also stream your cell phone, TV, music and much more. The overall goal is to make hearing aids cool—to end the stigma of wearing them.”

That all sounds exciting for the boomer to millennial generations, but my 87-year-old mom would never be able to stream music from her phone. As her caregiver I have personally found dealing with her hearing aids very frustrating— including changing those pea-sized batteries, something she can’t do by herself because she has sight and dexterity issues. Any help on the way for her (and me!)?

“Yes, rechargeable sealed lithium batteries. Sealed means you don’t have to take them out of the hearing aid to recharge them. Sealing also means they are more humidity resistant—humidity can short out hearing aids. We are also finding custom-fit molds (versus the little rubber domes) are easier to set in place for people with dexterity issues. They also don’t fall out as easily which means they don’t get lost as easily.”

Is there any technology on the horizon to make changing those teeny-tiny wax filters any easier? That job is worse than threading a needle.

“That’s why it’s good to have a clinic to work with. We realize that job is tough for a lot of our customers so we tell them to just stop in at our desk and we will change the filters.”

Which brings me to over-the-counter hearing aids that seem about a third or less of the cost of the hearing aids you get from a clinic. What do you think of those?

“Yes, the FDA recently approved over-the-counter hearing aids. They are cheaper. But think of the person who buys a pair, wears them a week and the filters clog up. They have no one to go to for help to change them. And are they programmed for them? And then maybe they get damp and short out. You’ve basically just lost your investment. Over the counter hearing aids are best used for backups—for when your real pair is being serviced.”