Hearing aid batteries have always been a bit of a headache. They’re not cheap, they only last about a week, and they leave a trail of yellow (or brown, or blue, or orange) stickers that follow you wherever you go. However, the newest generation of rechargeable hearing aids may offer a compelling alternative for many.
There are currently 2 major manufacturers offering rechargeable hearing aids: Phonak and Signia (formerly Siemens). Both use inductive-charging, lithium-ion technology and both claim 24 hours of battery life in a single charge. Phonak claims the time needed to fully charge the hearing aids from a conventional wall outlet-charger to be 3 hours, with 30 minutes giving you 6 hours of charge. (Unfortunately, both batteries are non-removable meaning that while they’re charging, you’ll have to be without your hearing aids.)
Signia claims this 24 hours of battery life includes unlimited wireless streaming, while Phonak more conservatively states that a 24 hour charge will allow for 80 minutes of streaming. Phonak goes on to say that if you decide to use wireless streaming for 10 straight hours, you’ll only have 6 additional hours of regular hearing available to you.
Is that good enough? There are lots of days that I listen to music or podcasts or talk on the phone for more than 80 minutes, and a good number of days where 24 hours between charges cuts it pretty close. Camping, road trips, and travelling on long flights are all situations where I want to know that I have a fully charged battery I can throw in at a moment’s notice.
Phonak does have a promising solution to this problem though: a portable power pack attachment for their standard charging case. They claim this case will provide 7 total charges for a pair of hearing aids, meaning that in theory, you could go a week without ever needing a wall outlet to recharge. However, they don’t indicate if this portable charging solution works as fast as conventional charging. If the portable charge does work that fast, then its super impressive. (Though in my experience using portable power packs for cell phones and other devices, they tend to work much slower than normal outlet-charging.)
So has the day now arrived where rechargeable hearing aids are a practical solution? For me, there are still questions to answer.
- Do they really last a full 24 hours?
- How fast does the portable charger work?
- A full 24 hours? Even in cold weather?
- How long will the batteries maintain original functioning? (I know my phone definitely does not last as long as it did when it was new.)
- What if the hearing aids encounter moisture? Still 24 hours?
The reasons that questions 1, 3, and 5 are basically the same is that hearing aid manufacturers have a notoriety for over exaggerating the abilities of their products – ask any audiologist if they really trust the manufacturer’s recommended fitting ranges. I really want to believe the claims made by Phonak and Signia, but I can’t quite buy into them until I hear more real world evidence of their abilities. Also, I think question 4 is really important too. 24 hours is a pretty reasonable level of battery life – although I would start to get nervous on days when all my favourite podcasts release new episodes – but if it starts to slip in a year or 2, then that’s a deal breaker. What happens if you’re in your third year with these hearing aids and you’re only getting half the original battery life? Will they let you send them in to replace the battery? Will you have to pay for that or will it be covered under warranty?
There are still a lot of questions about rechargeable hearing aids, and if I had to buy a new pair today, I don’t think I would choose rechargeable just yet. Maybe one day, when they’re available across a wider variety of hearing aid models and styles and have proven themselves in real world scenarios. However, these hearing aids in their present state do offer a wonderful advantage to a number of people. Older adults (and those with mobility impairments) often have difficulty replacing their batteries when they go dead. Heck, I’m 22 and I regularly drop batteries and watch them roll under furniture when I have to change them. Older adults may even have trouble just remembering to replace their batteries or realizing that they are dead. For these populations, today’s level of rechargeable hearing aid technology offers a way to avoid these problems – although they might not be a solution for me just yet.