Let's talk about rechargeable hearing aids
Rechargeable hearing aids have been available for many years but in the past have had limited success. The battery technology was not capable of providing sufficient power over a long enough period of time for reliable daily use and with the dawn of wireless streaming it simply wasn’t fit for purpose. More recently this has changed and the rechargeable has really come into its own.
The first breakthrough was the Z Power Silver Zinc system whereby hearing aids could be retro-fitted with individually designed battery drawers and chargers custom designed for different makes of hearing aid. This was designed to deliver a whole day of power from an overnight charge thus dispensing with the need for changing batteries every few days. Dispensers were advised that the batteries would need replacing after about 12 months.
So what are the advantages of the Siver Zinc system?
No more fiddly battery changes every few days
More reliable power - up to 24 hours of use even with several hours of audio streaming
The flexibility to interchange with a standard battery should the user either forget or be unable to charge the aids
The batteries are non toxic, non flammable and 100% recyclable
Aid generally switch off / on automatically when placed in or taken out of the charger
And the disadvantages?
Well in theory none apart from the cost of replacing the batteries annually.
What has been my experience of the Z Power Silver Zinc system?
Not great probably sums it up I’m afraid. Whilst some have had perfect performance it’s fair to say that an equal number have had issues. These have ranged from aids cutting out after a few hours, red lights on the charger indicating that the aids are incorrectly positioned or not charging and batteries that have needed replacement after just a few months. Z Power have addressed the problems via firmware updates to the charger and manufacturers have re-designed their own battery drawers but my feeling is that this is not the future of rechargeables and I no longer recommend them.
Enter the Lithium-Ion rechargeable!
A new generation of rechargables finally seems to be offering us the convenience and reliability that we crave. My first experience of lithium-ion was the Phonak Audeo B R which admittedly I was a little nervous of however it proved to be reliable and has more recently been replaced by the brilliant Phonak Marvel R / RT. I always say if something is a good idea everyone will be doing it and this seems to be so. Over the last few months all of the manufacturers that I work with have launched a lithium-ion system and so far I am impressed. Thye have all of the expected advantages ie easy charging with 24 hours of reliable power plus the benefit of a sealed unit which makes the devices safer when there are children and pets around. Battery life predictions range between 4 and 6 years.
Any disadvantages of Lithium-ion?
There are some concerns about the toxicity and fire risk with lithium ion batteries in general however with the sealed casing and the need for either the Audiologist or manufacturer to change the batteries this is minimised. A minor downside is that if you have forgotten to charge the aids the battery cannot be replaced with a standard zinc air however you can generally get away with a quick half hour charge to top up. The aids are a little more expensive which means it is not a way of saving money on batteries.
Is it for me?
Yes absolutely ! Rechargeable hearing aids are a lifestyle choice best suited to those who are used to the routine of charging mobiles etc overnight and reasonably organised when going on holiday to make sure that the charger and leads are packed. Also great for clients with dexterity or sight problems. This technology is currently only available in behind the ear hearing aids but who knows what the future holds?