New tech for hearing aids, smartphone apps help seniors

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published October 31, 2018

 Advancements in technology are making tools that assist seniors with health issues such as poor hearing more effective, more compact and more convenient to use.

Advancements in technology are making tools that assist seniors with health issues such as poor hearing more effective, more compact and more convenient to use.

Photo provided by Felix Cruz

METRO DETROIT — Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and those improvements trickle down into almost every facet of everyday life, including medical care for senior citizens.

Solutions to one of the most common issues for seniors — hearing loss — are getting a boost from such advancements, with hearing aids becoming more effective, more comfortable, smaller and longer lasting.

Dr. Peter Watson, vice president of care management and outcomes for Health Alliance Plan, said this is affecting the lives of those with hearing problems in more ways than most people realize.

“Hearing aids have definitely progressed to provide better support, be more durable and be less cumbersome,” explained Watson. “Studies show proper hearing can help people with memory problems and help compensate for other issues, like mobility issues or vision problems.”

This not only improves the quality of hearing aids, but it also means people will be more likely to use them as well.

“Much of the advancements in hearing aids have to do with reducing the stigma of having to use them,” said Watson. “People were very conscious of using the old bulky ones, so having smaller, more streamlined devices with longer batteries has improved that for people.”

The proliferation of smartphones also is creating new opportunities for doctors to connect with patients or help patients manage their medical problems.

“Some hearing aids can now wirelessly connect or have a Bluetooth link with their phone,” said Watson. “They not only allow them to control the hearing aid through the phone, but the hearing aid also doubles as a sort of earbud for the phone.”

Watson said smartphones are already helping seniors in a number of ways.

“We’re seeing more and more applications come out for smartphones that help seniors. One of the largest issues for seniors is general loneliness or isolation. Having that connectability and access to social media can help a great deal,” he said. “There also are a number of apps that are designed to help seniors manage their daily lives. … Some apps also are designed to coach seniors with specific conditions, like diabetes, to manage their daily life. It can remind them when to take medication; it can connect to a glucose monitor and help them track their eating habits.”

Felix Cruz, the owner of Cruz Hearing in Farmington Hills and Taylor, which provides hearing aids and other similar equipment, said a big difference is having more options available for those with hearing issues and more flexibility for those who rely on hearing aids every day.

“There’s been a lot of improvement in the technology to enhance the quality of the hearing,” said Cruz. “The ability to adjust your hearing aids to your lifestyle either through your iPhone or Android is great. You can customize your sound according to your environment. They can pick up sounds in the environment and then fine-tune the hearing aid to equalize it depending on whether you’re listening to things like speech or music or the sounds of nature. Everyone hears different, and everyone’s lifestyle is different.”

Cruz cautioned that although technology is making hearing aids better, there always is a limit to how much such advancements can help.

“Advancements in technology are making things better, but it all comes back to the human factor, which is finding how much of our hearing a person has retained and how much of their hearing is left to respond to the technology,” he said.

Other technologies are currently available or are soon to be available to senior citizens with health issues.

“The (Food and Drug Administration) just approved an Apple Watch which can monitor heart rate and can (detect) a high-impact fall and automatically notify medical services or family,” Watson said. “I think we will see a lot of emerging devices that can help people give themselves exams at home and send the results to a doctor. For instance, with heart failure cases, people can accumulate fluid in their legs and lungs. They can weigh themselves to monitor the situation, and this could automatically alert the patient and provide the results to their physician.”

Watson said the driving need behind a lot of technology aimed at helping seniors is related to decreasing response times and decreasing the burden — particularly the burden of travel — on patients.

“(All these devices) still require having a relationship with a doctor, but helping people communicate with those doctors and better collect information from a patient can save lives,” Watson said. “Virtual visits in the home also are going to become more and more common, which would be a big benefit for seniors who have trouble with mobility or transportation. This is just a matter of video conferencing. It could mean doctors could provide equipment to patients so they could give an exam to people without the patient having to leave the home.”