Innovating the Future: AAA celebrates 25 years

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“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do,” said Walt Disney, creator of Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Inquisitive audiologists found plenty to keep them entertained at the 2013 AudiologyNOW! conference at the Anaheim Conference Centre, in Orange County, California.

Thousands of presenters, researchers, audiologists, dispensers, doctors, students and exhibitors convened in Anaheim, California from April 3rd to 6th for AudiologyNOW! 2013. As well as celebrating 25 years of the American Academy of Audiology, attendees were asked to “Innovate the Future” – the theme of lectures, workshops, poster sessions and the exhibition floor at this year’s largest global gathering of audiologists.

For the first day at AudiologyNOW!, students had their own dedicated conference. Organised by the Student Academy of Audiology, the “Case-study Investigations” conference, which ran throughout Wednesday, allowed the future innovators in audiology to hear from a range of specialists, with a specific focus on clinical cases.

Hundreds of delegates attended the Academy Research Conference (ARC). Now in its fifth year, the ARC one-day event looked at how the brain responds to binaural information, under the title “The Moral of Binaural: Why and How Hearing Should Be Restored to Both Ears? Binaural hearing is essential for processing speech in complex, “real life” auditory environments, but can be significantly compromised by hearing loss and technological limits of current auditory prostheses. Delegates learned about the latest findings on how the brain responds to binaural information and the on-going work to translate that knowledge into improved use of intelligent hearing devices.

AudiologyNow and then

The main day at AudiologyNOW! has to be Thursday with the academy’s general assembly and the opening of Audiology Solutions – the exhibit area of AudiologyNOW! With 2013 being the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Academy, the Keynote speaker, Jack Uldrich, took the audience back through AAA’s past. Society has witnessed a staggering amount of change and audiologists have benefited greatly. However, Uldrich, a best-selling author and global futurist, advised delegates that they will need to be able to “unlearn” many of the old ideas about their profession, their industry and their customers in order to progress in the future. Those audiologists that can do this will benefit from a myriad of emerging trends in the future.

Audiologists were able to get their hands on the immediate future of their profession with the opening of the Audiology Solutions exhibition. The show floor opened at 11.30am on Thursday 4th April, with more than 190 companies spread across 100,000 square feet of exhibition space. There is no other place where you can see as many products and services or speak with as many industry representatives. The space and content is so vast that delegates are encouraged to plan their visit to Audiology Solutions through the Virtual Show Floor. However, this year was unusually quiet on the show floor. The only time there was a real buzz to the place was during the Industry Connections Reception. This was a special reception right on the floor of Audiology Solutions, with open bars and food available around and on the manufacturer booths during Friday evening.

Technological themes

The major hearing aid manufacturers all had new products or product extensions on show. Once upon a time, these products were launched at AAA with a ‘big bang’. Nowadays most people have heard about the new products prior to the show as they are launched, particularly in Europe, in the weeks running up to AudiologyNOW! Last year, ‘Apps’ for iPhones, iPads and android devices were the talk of the conference, this has now moved on further with ‘Made for iPhone’ hearing aids.

The big technology news from 2012 was 3D ear scanning with promises of equipment launches by the end of the year. Unfortunately, none of these promised products materialised. However, this technology is still very much alive and is once again promised for later in the year. Manufacturers such as Lantos, who made the biggest impact last year, have spent the last twelve months revising their offering from a technology point of view and also from a financial standpoint. Feedback from the thousands of delegates last year has ensured the technology has changed and the cost has decreased, although audiologists will still be expected to invest several thousands of dollars in the equipment.

In that time, new scanners have been developed by Otometrics and 3Shape. The Otometrics model, OTOscan, distinguishes itself from Lantos with a different pricing model – there is no initial outlay – audiologists are expected to pay per scan. The product also includes a monitor in the handheld unit; something the company believes will be invaluable for audiologists as there is no need to connect to an external monitor.

A 3D ear scanner from the Danish company, 3Shape, will be available in 2014. The OTOS scanner, uses technology that 3Shape has been using in the dental industry for many years and is non-invasive due to no membranes being inserted in the ear. All the audiologist has to do is point the tip of the scanner at the patient’s ear and press a button!

In the last few years there has been a small but growing influx of new hearing aid manufacturers. The initial contingent of Chinese companies was joined at AudiologyNOW! by several hearing aid companies from Korea. Algor Korea manufacturers a full range of hearing instruments and tinnitus maskers, which they have been supplying in Korea since 2004. They are now looking to expand across Europe and America. At AudiologyNOW! they were looking for distributors, manufacturers and retailers to take their products across the globe. Another first time exhibitor from Korea was BioSound Lab Co Ltd. The company provides a full range of digital hearing instruments, including a self-fitting hearing instrument. They currently have a US distributor and are now looking for companies to work with in other parts of the world.

It’s all in the mind

Possibly the most interesting booth that this year’s AudiologyNOW! was tucked at the back of the exhibition hall. Auditory Valley Future Hearing didn’t have any hearing aids or products on their booth; what they did have was ideas. Auditory Valley is a collaboration of four German universities – two in Oldenburg and two in Hanover – consisting of audiologists, psychologists, physicists, geneticists, biologists who are looking to take their research ideas forward into everyday life. Dr Rebecca Carroll, a researcher with the group explained their presence at the show, “We are trying to promote our brand and we are looking for cooperation partners.” Dr Carroll was asking audiologists which of the following would be a future trend in audiology: self-fitting hearing aids/teleaudiology; re-growing hair cells or mind-controlled hearing aids. Auditory Valley is working on all three areas, amongst hundreds of other ideas! Mind-controlled hearing aids, who would have thought they would be coming!

© V.A.

Victoria Adshead, correspondent for Audio infos in the UK