Elderly people who find themselves unable to hear as well as they used to may be helped with an innovative new stick-on patch. The device vibrates to transmit sound waves to the inner ear through the skull, bypassing the middle and inner ear.
It is often these two areas that become damaged over time and lead to a loss of hearing in the older generation. Conventional hearing aids can have limited success in this type of deafness, making the breakthrough patch particularly welcome.
Around 11 million people in Britain, which equates to one in six of the population, have hearing problems caused by the ear or auditory nerve preventing signals from reaching the brain. This is called sensorineural hearing loss and is the most common form of deafness in this country.
Conductive hearing loss is the second most prevalent type of deafness and occurs when sounds can’t travel through the outer and middle ear to the inner ear. It is often caused by an infection, perforated ear drum or because the individual has an unusually narrow ear canal.
The two types of deafness are not mutually exclusive, meaning some people may have sensorineural and conductive hearing loss at the same time. While traditional hearing aids have been successful at combating some people’s conductive deafness, others have found bone conductive devices necessary.
In the past, these devices have consisted of a surgical implant, but the new Adhear product could change that. It is a triangular waterproof patch that is equipped with an audio processor and can be stuck behind the ear without any need for surgery.
Two microphones in the processor pick up the sound waves and convert them into vibrations, which are then passed through the patch, along the bones of the skull and finally into the inner ear. A small wheel allows the wearer to adjust the volume of the sounds they hear.
An Adhear device could also be used by people who are deaf in one ear, with the sound being sent from the non-hearing ear to the functioning one. Such groundbreaking technology could help to improve quality of life for many individuals.
Researchers from the Medical University of Warsaw said: “It seems to be a suitable alternative for patients who need a hearing solution for conductive hearing loss but, for medical reasons, cannot or do not want to undergo surgery for an implant.”
Helios Hospital in Germany conducted a small study with 12 participants and came to a positive conclusion. Hearing performance was found to be significantly better with the device than without it under test conditions.
Jaydip Ray, a professor of otology and neurotology at the University of Sheffield, told the Mail Online: “This adhesive option offers easy anchorage and can be a reasonable temporary fix in the short to medium-term.
“However, there are likely to be minor issues with skin irritation from the glue, and compromised sound transmission due to inadequate pressure on the bony contact point. This might limit its wider and long-term application.”