top of page

The Flat Cap on ... Hearing Aids

Yesterday The Flat Cap did some shopping for Mrs. Duckett who lives at number 54. Once back from Aldi he popped round to her house and was let in by Mrs. Duckett’s grandson Toby. Alice Duckett was explaining to Toby how her new hearing aid worked and remarked that it was very state of the art. Alice’s doctor had told her it was also very expensive and one of the best that the NHS supplied. Toby then asked his grandmother, “what kind is it Nana?” to which the old lady had replied, “almost a quarter past four”. Not wishing to intrude The Flat Cap had placed the shopping in Mrs. Duckett’s kitchen and promised to call back later.

The exchange between grandmother and grandson nevertheless got The Flat Cap thinking and so he decided to find out a little bit more about hearing aids and how they came to be introduced. He would have asked Mrs. Duckett more about her own hearing aid but felt that could have been a long conversation, and he wanted to be home in time to watch the latest episode of Pointless on BBC1. And furthermore Mrs. Duckett had a tomcat called Sabre who would hiss at him whenever he popped round. The Flat Cap’s visits to number 54 were therefore usually quite business-like and brief.

The first thing Bert discovered was that partially deaf people had been looking for ways to improve their hearing since at least the 17th century. The earliest aids were called ear trumpets and largely conical in shape. They were named after their makers or after the people for whom they were designed. John Townshend made the Townsend Trumpet, and painter Joshua Reynolds had an ear trumpet made for him which bore his name. The latter ear trumpet probably bore his name so he didn’t lose it on the bus, or misplace it when out shopping for a new easel. There was also a Daubney trumpet, presumably named after somebody with the same surname but The Flat Cap couldn’t find out who. Regular readers will have realised that these articles are only researched so far. Perhaps the most famous early hearing aid was made for King John Vl of Portugal who had a special acoustic throne designed for him. The chair’s ornately carved arms, which resembled the open mouths of lions, acted as receptors for the acoustics and transmitted them into the back of the throne via a speaking tube. The tube then fed into the King’s ear. And being a king nobody thought to ridicule him, or his contraption.

It was only after the inventions of the microphone and telephone that electronic hearing aids began to be manufactured. In order to get noticed these new hearing aids needed to have a catchy moniker. This meant they needed a word also ending in “phone” or part of the word “acoustics” somewhere in its name. They also needed to be portable and relatively lightweight. Anything too big attached to your ears would have made walking through narrow doorways problematical. After the early electronic hearing aids came vacuum-tube hearing aids, and then in the 1950s transistor hearing aids. In the 1960s digital hearing aids had begun to be developed and once someone had invented the microprocessor in the 1970s it was only a matter of time before the creation of the first digital hearing aid in 1987. Thirty years later you can access digital hearing aid apps on your smartphone. That’s pretty much the history of modern hearing aids. There’s lot more that The Flat Cap could have written; about how they work, which eccentric personalities used to like to walk around with an ear trumpet clasped to the side of their head, and sound waves and amplification but it was all a bit technical and boring.

Whilst walking round his local Specsavers store The Flat Cap got chatting to a lady called Pamela who was looking to buy a new digital hearing aid. As there was a bit of a queue and time to kill she shared the following hearing aid related facts:

  • Composer Ludwig van Beethoven had a collection of ear trumpets and these are now displayed at the Beethoven Museum in Bonn, Germany

  • The first electric hearing aid was called the "Akouphone"

  • Hearing aids cost hundreds of pounds and some users feign deafness on hearing the price

  • The average life expectancy of a hearing aid is five or six years

  • It is estimated that almost two thirds of all hearing aids go unworn, or are placed in a drawer

  • You can get special hearing aids that mask or take away the wearer’s focus from their tinnitus. The Flat Cap nodded knowledgeably at this point and made a mental note to google tinnitus once he got home. Tinnitus, he found out, is the term for hearing sounds like ringing or buzzing in your ears even though there’s an absence of any external sound. Nobody knows the exact cause of tinnitus. People who work in noisy jobs are more likely to develop tinnitus. For example professional musicians are four times more likely to suffer noise induced deafness. Phil Collins and Ozzy Osbourne are two examples of this

  • A third of people over the age of 65 suffer hearing loss. Coincidentally both Phil Collins and Ozzy Osbourne are over 65. Ozzy’s wife Sharon is also over 65 but she probably has good hearing, otherwise Simon Cowell wouldn’t let her be a judge on his television talent shows. (real name William Adams) manages to be a judge on television talent show The Voice despite having developed tinnitus; also from listening to loud music

  • The batteries that fit in hearing aids are really small, even smaller than the AAA size batteries that you put in your television remote control, and more like the size you put inside a watch

  • American inventor Thomas Edison was deaf by his early teens. He still went on to invent the light bulb and other stuff

  • There are over 3,000 types of hearing aid on the market today

bottom of page