Technology

Rechargeable hearing aids are not all created equal

A fully integrated lithium-ion battery was worth the wait!

In my younger years, I was always surrounded by electronic devices, whether they were mechanical toys or cassette players. Back then, when you bought electronics, you knew they would require batteries so you automatically stopped and picked up batteries along the way. Spares were always kept in a drawer and you always knew where batteries were when they needed replacing.

Then rechargeable technology came out and changed the way we viewed electronics. Not every device had them in the beginning, but they gradually took over battery-dependent devices. With this advancement, I didn’t have to seek and replace batteries any more, only a power plug. As long as I recharged my devices, my daily life was simplified.

Today, I’m still surrounded by electronic devices but now rechargeable ones – from my phone, to my smart watch and tablet, to my headphones and my toothbrush. Even my daughter’s toys are now rechargeable. It is so ingrained in our lives that I now get frustrated when she buys a toy that comes with the warning ‘2xAA batteries required’….Where did I store that last pack of batteries I bought last year? …And where is my screwdriver so I can open the battery door and replace the batteries?

It’s an unspoken rule in my house – electronics have to be rechargeable. It’s definitely easier for me to find a charging cable and socket than a battery!

So , what about rechargeable technology for hearing aids? Does purchasing a rechargeable hearing aid automatically mean one’s life will be made better? Well, I can tell you that not all rechargeable hearing aids are created equal. For example, there are some hearing aids that have rechargeable batteries, but the convenience is lost because you still have to regularly take them out of the hearing aids to charge. Or some rechargeable hearing aids don’t last a full day. When I compare this to my other electronic devices, it is important that the battery lasts as long as I need it (e.g. a full day or more) AND I don’t have to manipulate them in and out of the battery door every time they need a charge.

When I first heard that Phonak was developing a hearing aid with a battery that was made from Lithium ion (Li-ion), I was intrigued. Hmmm, these were new words to me… Lithium-ion battery. I never gave much thought to what type of battery I had in my electronic devices. I started to take a closer look into this and began to understand the remarkable differences between the different types of batteries available. I learned about rechargeable batteries made from Nickle Metal Hydride (NiMH), Silver Zinc (AgZn) and most recently Li-ion. I discovered that Li-ion was never considered to be a suitable solution for rechargeable batteries in hearing aids due to its high voltage that could damage the internal chip of the hearing aid.

The funny thing was, according to the consumer research, MarkeTrak IX, rechargeability was included in the top ten ‘end-user wishes’ but there wasn’t much of a mention of rechargeable hearing aids being popular or successful even though they were different devices commercially available in NiMH and AgZn. The more I looked into it, the more I understood that handling, usability, design and battery lifetime were serious obstacles that were challenging and difficult for hearing aid manufacturers to overcome.

I am happy to report that Phonak overcame all these obstacles with the introduction of Audéo B-R, the first commercially available receiver in the canal (RIC) hearing aid that uses Li-ion battery technology. This was possible because Phonak engineers were able to design a power module that could lower the voltage of Li-ion into usable hearing aid voltage. The Li-ion power module could then be integrated into the hearing aid.

That wasn’t the only benefit.

  • This integrated battery module removed the hassle of changing batteries and risk of damaging the battery housing.
  • Usability of the device and the charging options made it simple and convenient to use, fulfilling the expectations of clients with something less to deal with.
  • The fully charged battery lasts a full day and more, even with streaming from an accessory.
  • Life time of the rechargeable battery is up to 6 years which means your patients don’t have to worry about changing batteries for years.
  • And if esthetics matter to your patients, the design of the hearing aid and the charging options are equally impressive with a sleek and unified look.

Audéo B-R really does offer aspects that I would expect from a rechargeable hearing aid: no battery hassle, quick charging for a full day of use, the convenience of a rechargeable battery and the sleek design of the hearing aid.

The success of Audéo B-R opened the door to add to the Phonak rechargeable portfolio, adding rechargeable options for pediatrics (Sky B-PR), Power (Naída B-R RIC), single sided deafness (CROS B-R) and a BTE form factor (Bolero B-PR).

After Phonak introduced its rechargeable hearing solution, some competitors introduced Li-ion models as well. But, there are differences. I welcome you to watch a video of Clifford Olson, AuD, comparing different rechargeable hearing solutions from different manufacturers. I personally agree with his #1 choice!

 

If you would like to read a related article on our rechargeable technology, I welcome you to read this recent blog post.

 

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