Bluetooth Hearing Aids and Hi-Tech Oldies

Baby boomers just beginning to need hearing aids are gravitating toward ones equipped to handle their gadgets, or disguise the hearing aid as one of them. …. Enter high-tech hearing aids that connect wirelessly via Bluetooth technology to cell phones, iPods and televisions.

Ageing boomers, because of their large numbers and willingness to pay for style and comfort, are a target market for manufacturers. Increasingly, that goes for medical devices, too.

The hearing aid transmits signals wirelessly so that it can connect to your cell phone, with Bluetooth technology, and televisions, stereos and the iPod. Users wear a button, usually connected to a thin wire that can be worn inside a shirt; pressing it allows them to answer cell phone calls, turn on the television or listen to music. The sound is piped in directly through the hearing aid.

The actual hearing aid costs about the same as a standard mid-level aid, around US$4,000. But the extra devices, including the controller, are another $1,000 to $1,500.

Hearing aids with wireless technology entered the market about three years ago, but most makers offer them now.

Siemens advertises its version, called Tek Connect, as meeting “the needs of today’s interactive hearing instrument wearer.” In the brochure, the models are wearing business suits and toting Blackberrys. The product is not positioned as something to be disguised: “The Tek Connect remote control speaks the same language as your other high-tech toys, giving you better performance and true stereo sound quality.”

Phonak, a Switzerland-based company that makes the wireless devices which released with its version two years ago, expects to sell almost solely to people in their 50s and 60s, and still views that as the growth market. But they also found that some of the buyers were older than that.

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