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AirPods as Hearing Aids: New Features Announced

Discover how Apple's innovative AirPods could revolutionize hearing support, bridging the gap between hearing loss and accessible, affordable, and stigma-free solutions for both older and younger generations.
Sep 29, 2023
Written by:
Medical Reviewer: AuD
Reviewed by: BSPharm, MPH, Senior Director, NCOA Center for Healthy Aging
Fact Checked

While there’s been no formal announcement, features allowing users to adjust AirPods like hearing devices suggests that Apple is positioning AirPods as over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Combining cutting-edge technology with widespread accessibility, this development could be a game-changer for the millions of Americans with hearing loss.

In this article, we delve into the latest features, compare AirPods with current OTC hearing aids, and discuss how this innovation could bridge the hearing support gap for both younger and older generations.

Current AirPod hearing aid features

Apple currently offers four AirPod models: AirPods 2nd generation, AirPods 3rd generation, AirPods Pro 2nd generation, and AirPods Max, an over-the-ear style headphone. When discussing the use of AirPods as hearing aid substitutes, we are generally referring to AirPods Pro (second generation), which was released in September 2022 and is the newest model.

Apple has advanced its AirPods to be used as an OTC hearing aid alternative for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. These innovative features transform the popular earbuds from an audio accessory to an assistive hearing device. Below are features of the Apple AirPods that can be used for those with mild to moderate hearing loss to improve their hearing.

Live Listen

The Live Listen feature turns your iPhone (or iPad) into a directional microphone, which sends the sound directly to your AirPods. This helps users to hear speech in noisy environments better. The feature can be accessed and controlled from the control center on any iOS device and is available on any of the four AirPod models. Some high-end hearing aid manufacturers, like Phonak, offer similar remote microphones, which can be placed near the source you’re trying to hear.

How to use Live Listen — Apple Support – YouTube

As Gary Rosenzweig, a software developer and host of MacMost podcast, explained in a video, “Live Listen will pick up voices and reduce background noise. You simply put your phone close to what you are trying to hear, whether that’s an in-person lecturer or a TV, with the microphone pointed toward it, and it will send the sound to your AirPods. As long as you are within range (800 feet for Bluetooth 5.0), you can be somewhat far away or even in a different room. This means Live Listen can also be used to listen for a buzzer on a dryer or oven, or even as a baby monitor.”

Rachel Magann Faivre, AuD, owner of Oklahoma City-based Ash Audiology, noted the downside of this is most people don’t want to leave their phone. “That’s why the hearing aid manufacturers have additional remote microphone options—Live Listen also works with streaming hearing aids.”

Conversation Boost

Conversation Boost is a feature in AirPods Pro that can help you stay more connected in crowded or noisy environments. Microphones focus AirPods Pro on the voice of the person directly in front of you, helping you distinguish their speech from background noise and follow along better during face‑to‑face conversations in loud locations. But this isn’t a unique feature to AirPods. Many hearing aid brands offer a similar feature (directional microphones), which allows you to focus on the person standing in front of you while reducing background noise.

Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode

AirPods Pro now come with active noise cancellation, which helps reduce background noise and can be helpful in loud environments. AirPods can also be set to Transparency Mode, which lets users hear the ambient sounds around them, providing a safer, more aware listening experience. You may want this feature while driving or walking on a busy street because it allows you to hear sounds (which may otherwise have been muted background noise) coming from all directions.

“When testing the AirPods, the noise cancellation feature worked remarkably well, especially for a $250 device,” noted audiologist Magann Faivre, who tested AirPods to evaluate how well they work.

“Conversation boost also worked well. Transparency Mode is basically a compression feature, which means when loud sounds occur, it softens them and amplifies soft sounds. In the test box, Transparency Mode did soften loud sounds, however, it did not amplify soft sounds to audible levels for a mild to moderate hearing loss. So, this effectively makes the devices comfortable but won’t allow the user to hear soft sounds well.”

Amplified Audio

Apple AirPods now offer amplified audio, making them more suitable for those with hearing impairments. The AirPods can be configured to amplify softer sounds while reducing loud background noise, providing a more balanced auditory experience.

“Real ear measurements showed that the default amplified settings for a mild to moderate hearing loss significantly underfit or underamplified the high frequencies. However, with adjustments they were able to more closely match the hearing prescription. Hearing aids are better able to meet this prescription, but again, for a $250 device, it worked pretty well,” said Magann Faivre. “High frequencies provide clarity to speech, so people using these with a mild to moderate hearing loss will likely want to boost the high frequency amplification to hear clearly.”

Customizable sound profiles and hearing test

Users can customize their AirPod sound profiles to match their hearing needs by using the Mimi app by Apple to conduct an at-home hearing test. The test includes listening to a range of tones at various frequencies and volumes. Based on your responses to these tones, the app then configures a custom audio setup for you, tailoring the audio output of the AirPods to match your specific hearing needs. If you already had your hearing checked, you can also upload your audiogram results through your phone settings.

Screenshots from the Apple Mimi app showing the results of a hearing test

The Apple Mimi app will test your hearing and allow you to customize your AirPod sound profile to your specific hearing needs.

Spatial audio with head tracking

The spatial audio feature uses dynamic head tracking to place sounds all around you, creating an immersive sound experience similar to being in a theater. This feature is designed so you can’t tell whether the sounds you’re hearing are coming from the AirPods or from all around you.

Bluetooth integration with Apple devices

The AirPods maintain seamless integration with other Apple devices using Bluetooth 5.0, including the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. This allows users to control their AirPod settings, like volume and audio input, from any of these devices.

Additional AirPod features announced

Apple continues to reinvent and refine its AirPods. The brand is planning two new features for the next generation: body temperature measurement and USB-C charging. [1] Gurman, Mark. What’s Next for Apple’s AirPods: Health Tracking, USB-C and Lower Prices. Bloomberg Newsletter. July 2, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2023-07-02/apple-airpods-plans-hearing-test-body-temperature-cheaper-models-usb-c-ljlfwffu?srnd=technology-vp These additions will enhance functionality and usability, making them an even more desirable product for the modern, health-conscious consumer who values convenience and the latest technology.

Body temperature measurement

One of the standout new features will be the ability to measure body temperature from inside the ear canal with your Airpods. This update represents a melding of personal audio and health technology, which could significantly increase the appeal of AirPods for many consumers.

  • Health monitoring: With the ability to monitor body temperature, AirPods could serve as another tool in personal health tracking. Elevating body temperature is an early warning sign of infection. [2] Torrance, Jennifer. Why is Temperature Tracking Important? The Jackson Laboratory. May 27, 2020. Found on the internet at https://www.jax.org/news-and-insights/2020/may/why-is-temperature-tracking-important Regularly monitoring body temperature can help identify potential health issues or simply provide a better overall understanding of personal health.
  • Integration with the Health app: The collected temperature data will integrate with the Apple Health app, allowing users to keep all their health-related information in one place. This data can be valuable for monitoring trends over time, recognizing deviations from the norm, and providing essential information to health care providers.
  • User convenience: The addition of a body temperature sensor adds another level of functionality to the AirPods without compromising its primary role. Users get a two-in-one device, enhancing convenience.

Transition to USB-C charging ports

USB-C port and cord on smartphone

The shift to USB-C charging ports for the AirPods case will be another significant update. This transition aligns with the broader tech industry’s move toward the versatile USB-C standard. AirPods currently use a lightning charger, like an iPhone.

  • Universal compatibility: With the increasing adoption of USB-C across devices, this change means users can carry fewer cables and chargers, simplifying their tech life. One cable could potentially charge a laptop, phone, and now, AirPods. Apple has stated they plan to comply with the European Union’s demand for USB-C charging for all devices, including iPhones. Many believe the change will be made with the upcoming iPhone 15.
  • Fast charging: USB-C is known for supporting fast charging capabilities. This could mean quicker recharge times for the AirPods, reducing downtime and making the device more efficient.
  • Future-proofing: As the tech industry continues its shift towards USB-C, the decision by Apple to incorporate it into AirPods ensures the brand’s devices remain compatible with the evolving technology landscape. [3] Weber, Joe. Are All Chargers Changing to USB-C? Betteries Plus Blog. May 1, 2023. Found on the https://www.batteriesplus.com/blog/tech/usb-c-standard

Can AirPods compete with current OTC hearing aids?

With audio processing features that, on the surface, seem comparable to those in traditional hearing aids, there have been suggestions in the tech world that AirPods Pro can be alternatives to hearing aids to help people with hearing loss hear better.

Current comparisons

When it comes to comparing Apple AirPods with OTC hearing aids, there are several factors to consider. This includes functionality, affordability, and user experience. Let’s take a closer look at how AirPods measure up and what additions could improve their competitive standing.

  • Functionality: With features like Live Listen, noise cancellation, and the recently added hearing test, AirPods offer impressive tools for users with mild to moderate hearing loss. Also, their integration with other Apple devices provides a seamless user experience that most OTC hearing aids can’t match. AirPods use Apple apps, whereas other hearing aid devices use their own, non-Apple apps. Medically approved OTC hearing aids are designed specifically to assist with hearing impairment and often provide a more sophisticated range of settings and adjustments for individual hearing needs. They usually come with multiple automatically adjusting preprogrammed sound profiles. Also, AirPods cannot distinguish between speech and background noise as well as most traditional hearing aids. [4] The Apple AirPods Potential as Hearing Aids – And Their Limitations. Olive Union. Sept. 18, 2020. Found on the internet at https://www.oliveunion.com/us/blog/hearing-aids/alternatives/airpods-as-hearing-aids/ Additionally, AirPods currently have a much shorter battery life than most hearing aids (4.5–6 hours compared to 16–30 hours).
  • Affordability: Using AirPods as a substitute for traditional hearing aids could lead to substantial savings for consumers. Given the high cost of hearing aids ($1,000–$7,000 per pair for prescription and around $300–$1,800 per pair for OTC) and the relatively lower cost of AirPods ($249 for Pro), the potential savings could be significant. Since hearing aids are often not covered by health insurance, the out-of-pocket expense can be a barrier for many.
  • User experience: AirPods are popular, convenient, and carry none of the social stigma that sometimes accompanies the use of hearing aids. But there is one potential issue around wearing AirPods. Alan Lidsky, MD, a hearing aid wearer and retired internal medicine physician from Denver, Colorado, pointed out, “I worry no one would talk to you with AirPods in because they’ll assume you’re listening to music or on the phone.” Others would have no way of knowing you’re open to conversation.

There have been some interesting experiments comparing AirPods to traditional hearing aids. A 2020 experiment out of Taiwan pitted AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro against a basic hearing aid (Bernafon MD 1) and a premium hearing aid (Oticon Opn 1) for 21 users with mild to moderate hearing loss. In almost all listening scenarios tested, the AirPods Pro matched the performance of the basic hearing aid and were only slightly less effective than the premium aid. [5] Lin, Heng-Yu Haley, et al. Smartphone-Bundled Earphones as Personal Sound Amplification Products in Adults with Sensorineural Hearing Loss. iScience. December 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589004222017084 They also found AirPods Pro met most of the electroacoustic criteria (four out of five) to be considered a competent PSAP (personal sound amplification product). It’s important to note PSAPs are not designed or recommended in the treatment of hearing loss and instead should only be used for sound amplification during recreational activities. ​​

Regarding the study, audiologist Magann Faivre noted: “I’d say one takeaway was the AirPods did not perform as well as the premium hearing aid in noisy environments. Otherwise, generally they performed well. Another big point was that the hearing aids were set at the manufacturer’s first settings and not at optimized real ear (prescription) settings. If the study compared all devices using real ear, they likely would have seen more discrepancies. That being said, most AirPod users aren’t going to see an audiologist to have their devices set to real ear settings. So, this is probably more real world applicable.”

A recent study of AirPods Pro and an iPhone with iOS 14 reported, “AirPods Pro with headphone accommodations in Transparency Mode enable people with hearing loss to hear quiet sounds more easily. Sound preferences can be fine-tuned to adjust the strength, tone, and overall amount of amplification.” The AirPods only fell short when it came to a wide range of sound level inputs—loud sound levels are generally over-amplified, while soft sound levels are under-amplified. [6] Chong-White, Nicky, et al. Evaluating Apple AirPods Pro with Headphone Accommodations as Hearing Devices. The Hearing Review. Dec. 1, 2021. Found on the internet at https://hearingreview.com/inside-hearing/research/evaluating-apple-airpods-pro-with-headphone-accommodations-as-hearing-devices

PriceStyleBattery LifeWaterproof
AirPods Pro$249EarbudAbout 5 hours (when hearing aid features are turned on)No, water-resistant
Lexie B2$999Receiver-in-canal (sits behind ear)18 hoursNo, water-resistant
Jabra Enhance Select 200$1,795–$1,995Receiver-in-canal (sits behind ear)30 hours (with charging case)No, water-resistant
Sony E10$1,300Earbud26 hoursNo, Water resistant
Eargo 7$2,950Completely-in-canal (invisible)16 hoursYes

What would make AirPods more competitive?

To compete more effectively with OTC hearing aids, Apple AirPods could benefit from several additions:

  • FDA approval: For the AirPods to truly compete with OTC hearing aids, achieving FDA approval as a medical device would be a significant step forward. This could increase trust among potential users and health care professionals. We reached out to Apple by online chat and were told they hope to get FDA approval in the “near future.”
  • More comprehensive sound adjustments: The earlier study mentioned AirPods fell short when it came to a wide range of sound level inputs—loud sound levels were generally over-amplified, while soft sound levels were under-amplified. [6] Chong-White, Nicky, et al. Evaluating Apple AirPods Pro with Headphone Accommodations as Hearing Devices. The Hearing Review. Dec. 1, 2021. Found on the internet at https://hearingreview.com/inside-hearing/research/evaluating-apple-airpods-pro-with-headphone-accommodations-as-hearing-devices To tailor to a wider range of hearing impairments, the AirPods could offer more detailed and sophisticated sound frequency adjustments to cater to specific hearing loss patterns. This would likely require an upgrade in the hearing screening used to customize listening settings.
  • Better feedback suppression: Whistling or buzzing, often known as feedback, is a common problem with hearing aids. Advanced feedback suppression could help position AirPods as a more desirable alternative to traditional hearing aids.
  • Longer battery life: It’s no surprise the battery life is so short considering all of the functions crammed into AirPods, but five hours isn’t even long enough to function as hearing assistive devices for an entire work day. “I had one patient just buy two pairs of AirPods in order for them to last all day. At $250 per set, buy two is still cheaper than most hearing aids or good over-the-counter [hearing aids],” noted Magann Faivre.
  • Waterproofing: Adding the ability to submerge a device in water tends to increase price drastically and limits some functions (such as the rear vents, which allow for advanced noise cancellation), so it may never be a viable option, but this feature is popular for obvious reasons. For the tech-savvy, health-conscious Apple customer, the option to swim or shower in their AirPods could be desirable.

The reality of hearing loss in America

Hearing loss is a significant public health issue affecting millions of people across America. Approximately 20% of Americans, close to 48 million people, have hearing loss. [7] Hearing Loss Basics. HLAA website Found on the internet at https://www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/hearing-loss-basics. Understanding the prevalence of hearing loss within different demographics can help in developing targeted interventions and treatments.

Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, is the most common type of hearing impairment. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65–74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. [8] Age-Related Hearing Loss. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Found on the internet at https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss

CDC Map of United States showing the percentage of adults with hearing loss by state

Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, is the most common type of hearing impairment.

Image Source: QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Aged ≥18 Years with Any Hearing Loss, by State. National Health Interview Survey, 2014–2016. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Dec. 22, 2017. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6650a7.htm

Geographical patterns of hearing loss in the United States can be influenced by a variety of factors, including access to health care, noise pollution levels, and occupational hazards. Urban areas with higher noise pollution often see a higher prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss. One study found nine out of 10 adults in New York City regularly exceeded the recommended U.S. EPA safe noise limit. [9] Neitzel, Rischard L., et al. Exposures to Transit and Other Sources of Noise Among New York City Residents. Environ Sci Technol. Jan. 3, 2012. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22088203/ Also, regions with a high concentration of industries known for high noise levels (construction, mining, manufacturing) may also see elevated rates of hearing loss.

Research indicates men are more likely than women to experience hearing loss. Factors contributing to this disparity may include higher rates of noise exposure from certain occupations or recreational activities more common among men. According to the NIDCD, the prevalence of hearing loss among men age 20–69 was almost twice as high as in women. [10] Quick Statistics About Hearing. NIDCD. NIH. Found on the internet at https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing

Hearing loss also disproportionately affects veterans. More than 2.7 million veterans receive either disability compensation for service-connected hearing disabilities or are in treatment for related hearing issues. [11] How does the VA rate hearing loss? Vetran’s Help Group website. Found on the internet at https://veteranshelpgroup.com/how-does-the-va-rate-hearing-loss.

Unfortunately, among adults age 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30%) has ever used them. Even fewer adults age 20–69 (approximately 16%) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them. [12] Quick Statistics About Hearing. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Found on the internet at https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing

These statistics underscore the widespread nature of hearing loss and the need for continued focus on prevention, early detection, and treatment. They also highlight the potential for assistive technologies, like the Apple AirPods, to play a part in addressing the issue of hearing loss.

Accessibility and adoption concerns for older adults

The use of Apple AirPods as a potential hearing aid solution comes with both opportunities and challenges when considering the older adult population. While the technology presents exciting possibilities, there are several accessibility and adoption concerns.

Battery life and maintenance

The AirPod battery only lasts 4.5–6 hours, compared to standard hearing aids with batteries lasting 12–30 hours (typically, an entire day). This inconvenience could be enough to cause older users to forgo using AirPods for this purpose. The transition to USB-C ports, while generally beneficial, could also cause confusion for those used to older charging methods. Cleaning AirPods is comparable to cleaning most hearing aids and generally involves removing earwax from the openings. Life expectancy is also about the same for both—about three years.

Tech savviness and learning curve

Anyone not familiar with Bluetooth technology and the use of smartphones could potentially have a steep learning curve when first using AirPods. Learning how to pair devices, manage settings, and troubleshoot common issues may be daunting. To address this, Apple could include intuitive in-app guides, user manuals written in plain language, or in-person workshops and classes designed for older adults.

Comfort and dexterity

Ergonomics is another important factor. Some older adults may find the AirPods uncomfortable or challenging to handle, especially those with arthritis or reduced fine motor skills. Apple might consider designing versions of these devices that are more suited to the needs of older adults, with easy-to-grab shapes or optional larger sizes. While some find earbuds, like AirPods, comfortable to wear, others might prefer a smaller, lighter, completely-in-canal-style hearing aid. AirPods Pro do come with four different ear tip sizes for a more comfortable fit.

Cost and accessibility

While AirPods may be more affordable than traditional hearing aids, the cost could still be a barrier for some older adults, especially those on fixed or limited incomes. Additionally, the need for a compatible device, like an iPhone or iPad, to take full advantage of AirPod features adds to the cost. A current iPhone 14 starts at $799, and iPads start at $449.

The appeal of AirPods as hearing aids for older adults

By offering a way to address hearing loss that’s discreet, multifunctional, and increasingly tailored to hearing needs, AirPods could be an attractive alternative to traditional hearing aids for many older adults. While there are indeed concerns, as we’ve discussed, it’s also important to note several compelling reasons why AirPods may be appealing as hearing aids for the older adult population.

Stigma reduction

Many people, including older adults, can be self-conscious about the visible signs of hearing loss. AirPods, widely recognized as a popular music and communication accessory, can serve as a discreet alternative. Wearing them doesn’t immediately signal to others the user has a hearing impairment, which can make people more comfortable using them in public.

“The couple patients I’ve had who use AirPods as hearing aids were younger (40s/50s) and used them because they’re so socially accepted. That being said, both with mild hearing losses, ordered hearing aids because they also could tell (without the advice of a professional) that they weren’t hearing as well as they’d like with the AirPods,” noted Magann Faivre. Some people may choose AirPods for their hearing loss because of acceptability but a traditional hearing aid may be better for them to address their level of hearing loss. This may cause further delays in obtaining the best treatment.

Innovative technology

The technology packed into AirPods and their seamless integration with the Apple ecosystem can be enticing for tech-savvy older adults. Features like Live Listen, personalized sound settings, noise cancellation, and Transparency Mode, can significantly improve the listening experience.

Multifunctionality

AirPods can do more than just aid with hearing. They can be used to listen to music, take phone calls (although, a member of our Reviews Team noted she spoke with her husband while he was taking a walk and using his AirPods to talk on the phone, and she found it was hard to hear him), use Siri, and even monitor health metrics. This multifunctionality could be a major draw for older adults who value practicality and efficiency. It means they can use one device for multiple needs, which can simplify their tech usage. Although it’s important to note prescription and over-the-counter hearing aids that allow streaming also offer the same multifunctionality.

Improved accessibility

Apple has consistently prioritized accessibility in its products, and AirPods are no exception. The range of accessibility settings allows users to customize their AirPods to meet their specific needs. You are able to adjust audio frequencies, enable Transparency Mode, turn on alarm notifications, and text in real time during phone calls. With the addition of these types of features aimed at supporting those with hearing loss, AirPods could be an accessible tool for older adults with varying degrees of hearing loss.

Ease of use

Despite the potential learning curve, once set up, AirPods are quite easy to use. They connect automatically to your iPhone and automatically turn on when inserted in a user’s ears and pause audio when removed. The simplicity of use once over the initial setup hurdle could be appealing to older adults.

Bridging the gap for young adults

For young adults with mild hearing loss, traditional hearing aids can often feel stigmatizing or out of touch with their lifestyle and needs. AirPods and similar technologies might be the key to closing this gap, providing a solution more aligned with the expectations and habits of younger generations.

Reducing stigma

As mentioned earlier, using AirPods can help reduce the stigma associated with hearing loss. Young adults, who are typically even more concerned about fitting in and not standing out, may feel more comfortable using AirPods, which are widely used by their peers for music and communication, rather than traditional hearing aids.

Lifestyle fit

AirPods fit seamlessly into the digital lifestyle of many young adults. They provide an integrated experience with smartphones and other digital devices, which is critical for those who rely heavily on technology in their daily lives. From listening to music, attending online classes, or making video calls, AirPods can be a versatile tool beyond just hearing support.

Affordability

Hearing aids can be prohibitively expensive, and they’re often not covered by insurance. This can be a significant barrier for young adults who may not have the financial resources to afford them. While AirPods are not cheap, they are typically more affordable than many traditional hearing aids, making them a more accessible option.

Availability and accessibility

In contrast to hearing aids, which usually require a prescription and a specialized fitting process, AirPods are readily available at electronics stores and online. The ease of access could encourage more young adults with mild to moderate hearing loss to take proactive steps to manage their condition. Remy S. of Denver, Colorado, (21) told us, “I already own AirPods, so if I needed something to help with my hearing I’d definitely use them rather than go out and buy new hearing aids.”

Audiologist Magann Faivre echoed this sentiment and noted every person she’s known who has used AirPods as hearing aids already owned them, but no one specifically went out and purchased them as hearing aids.

Future tech development

As AirPods continue to evolve, future features could be even more beneficial for young adults with hearing loss. For instance, spatial audio could provide an improved experience in noisy environments, like schools or social gatherings, and additional health tracking features could help users monitor and understand their hearing health better over time.

Implications of AirPods as hearing aids for under-served Americans

The use of AirPods as hearing aids could indeed be a game-changer for the four out of five Americans who experience hearing loss but do not use hearing aids. [13] Hearing Loss Facts and Statistics. HLAA. Found on the internet at https://www.hearingloss.org/wp-content/uploads/HLAA_HearingLoss_Facts_Statistics.pdf By addressing key barriers, such as stigma, accessibility, and cost, AirPods could potentially help close the gap between the number of people who need hearing support and those who actually receive it.

As for which states or metro areas would be most or least helped by this development:

Most helped: Urban areas and technologically advanced regions could be most helped, given the higher concentration of tech-savvy populations and the availability of Apple stores or other electronics outlets. Areas with higher noise pollution, and thus higher risk of noise-induced hearing loss, might also benefit significantly. States such as California, New York, and Texas, with their large urban centers, fall into this category.

Least helped: Rural areas or regions with lower income levels might not see the same level of benefit due to potential barriers, such as cost, lack of accessibility to devices, or a lack of reliable internet for device functionality. Moreover, older populations with less exposure to advanced technology might face a steeper learning curve to using such devices, although the adoption of new technologies is growing for adults over 65. [14] Faverio, Michelle. Share of Those 65 and Older Who Are Tech Users has Grown in the Past Decade. Pew Research Center. Jan. 13, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2022/01/13/share-of-those-65-and-older-who-are-tech-users-has-grown-in-the-past-decade.

Bottom line

AirPods may serve as a stepping stone to the 80% of people who could benefit from hearing aids but do not use them. [13] Hearing Loss Facts and Statistics. HLAA. Found on the internet at https://www.hearingloss.org/wp-content/uploads/HLAA_HearingLoss_Facts_Statistics.pdf With more than 100 million people currently using AirPods, they have clearly already been widely accepted into our culture. [15] Ferjan, Mataja. Interesting AirPods Facts 2023: AirPods Revenue, Release Date, Units Sold. Headphones Addict. Feb. 21, 2023. Found on the internet at https://headphonesaddict.com/airpods-facts-revenue. Those who own AirPods already have access to many hearing tools they might not know about.

Airpods are by no means ready to replace hearing aids altogether, but they may be an effective alternative for those looking for an affordable way to tackle specific hearing difficulties, like voices in noisy settings, or those looking for temporary accommodations until they can be seen by an audiologist. While Apple accommodations can be helpful, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Even if you use your AirPods or other technology to manage your hearing loss, regular check-ins with your health care provider or audiologist are essential to monitor your condition and ensure you’re getting the best possible care.

Finally, Apple is not the only company offering earbuds with hearing aid functions. Olive, Samsung, and IQbuds have similar products currently on the market. Keep an eye on this space as we continue to bring you updates on how technology is playing a transformative role in the lives of older adults, empowering them to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.

“I think AirPods are a great first step, but one that I’ve seen leaves the user wanting a better device,” said Magann Faivre. “I think it’s great because it gets people started in the process to hear better, and generally with time will lead them to get more help if they need it. It’s a gateway hearing device.”

Have questions about this article? Email us at reviewsteam@ncoa.org.

Sources

  1. Gurman, Mark. What’s Next for Apple’s AirPods: Health Tracking, USB-C and Lower Prices. Bloomberg Newsletter. July 2, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2023-07-02/apple-airpods-plans-hearing-test-body-temperature-cheaper-models-usb-c-ljlfwffu?srnd=technology-vp
  2. Torrance, Jennifer. Why is Temperature Tracking Important? The Jackson Laboratory. May 27, 2020. Found on the internet at https://www.jax.org/news-and-insights/2020/may/why-is-temperature-tracking-important.
  3. Weber, Joe. Are All Chargers Changing to USB-C? Batteries Plus Blog. May 1, 2023. Found on the  https://www.batteriesplus.com/blog/tech/usb-c-standard.
  4. Olive Union. The Apple AirPods Potential as Hearing Aids – And Their Limitations. Sept. 18, 2020. Found on the internet at https://www.oliveunion.com/us/blog/hearing-aids/alternatives/airpods-as-hearing-aids.
  5. Lin, Heng-Yu Haley, et al. Smartphone-Bundled Earphones as Personal Sound Amplification Products in Adults with Sensorineural Hearing Loss. iScience. December 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589004222017084.
  6. Chong-White, Nicky, et al. Evaluating Apple AirPods Pro With Headphone Accommodations as Hearing Devices. The Hearing Review. Dec. 1, 2021. Found on the internet at https://hearingreview.com/inside-hearing/research/evaluating-apple-airpods-pro-with-headphone-accommodations-as-hearing-devices.
  7. Hearing Loss Association of America. Hearing Loss Basics. Found on the internet at https://www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/hearing-loss-basics.
  8. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Age-Related Hearing Loss. Found on the internet at https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss.
  9. Neitzel, Rischard L., et al. Exposures to Transit and Other Sources of Noise Among New York City Residents. Environmental Science & Technology. Jan. 3, 2012. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22088203.
  10. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Aged ≥18 Years with Any Hearing Loss, by State. National Health Interview Survey, 2014–2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Dec. 22, 2017. Found on the internet at http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6650a7
  11. Veterans Health Group. How does the VA rate hearing loss? Found on the internet at https://veteranshelpgroup.com/how-does-the-va-rate-hearing-loss.
  12. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Quick Statistics About Hearing. Found on the internet at https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing#4.
  13. Hearing Loss Association of America. Hearing Loss Facts and Statistics. Found on the internet at https://www.hearingloss.org/wp-content/uploads/HLAA_HearingLoss_Facts_Statistics.pdf.
  14. Faviero, Michelle. Share of Those 65 and Older Who are Tech Users Has Grown in the Past Decade. Pew Research. Jan. 13, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2022/01/13/share-of-those-65-and-older-who-are-tech-users-has-grown-in-the-past-decade.
  15. Ferjan, Mataja. Interesting AirPods Facts 2023: AirPods Revenue, Release Date, Units Sold. Headphones Addict. Feb. 21, 2023. Found on the internet at https://headphonesaddict.com/airpods-facts-revenue.
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