A new generation of rechargeable battery technologies promises to make life easier for rechargeable hearing aids consumers in 2017. When two new rechargeable hearing aid models and an innovative new retrofit rechargeable battery system hit the market in late 2016, consumers finally got a choice of options as easy and convenient to charge as your cell phone.
Hearing aid users have long made it clear they would strongly prefer rechargeable hearing aids over their disposable-battery counterparts (see the results of our survey: Rechargeable Hearing Aid Preferences). But until recently, manufacturers failed to meet the one-charge-per-day standard consumers are accustomed to with their mobile phones.
Rechargeable hearing aids had been available for a long time, but battery life was always limited to a few hours, which took your hearing aids out of commission for recharging at inconvenient times. Bulky form factors and inconsistent power output further limited their appeal.
So, hearing-aid users continued to depend on traditional hearing aids with disposable batteries, which came with their own problems. Disposables needed to be replaced frequently and were expensive – a typical hearing aid user could spend well over $100 a year on batteries alone. And when you tossed them in the trash instead of finding an approved recycling facility, they caused real environmental damage.
Solving the All-Day Power Problem
The recent product innovations have changed the picture completely. Now, rechargeable hearing aids feature:
- A full day of use: The new products provide around 24 hours of use time.
- Familiar form factors: They provide daylong power in the same familiar hearing aid form factor.
- Less hassle: Many users complain about having to constantly replace the small disposable batteries in their hearing aids. The rechargeable batteries never need to be replaced—they just inserts the hearing aids into an easy-to-use recharging unit at night.
The new rechargeable hearing aid models come from two of the “Big Six” manufacturers of premium hearing aids. Phonak’s Audéo B-R hearing aids and the Sivantos Signia Cellion Primax hearing aids reportedly last 24 hours on a full charge. Each integrates a lithium-ion rechargeable battery into the hearing aid’s sealed body, and both come with a simple charging station.
The retrofit option comes from ZPower, which has been developing and refining its own unique silver zinc battery technology for the past decade. ZPower’s rechargeable batteries can be used instead of standard disposable batteries in many existing hearing aid models. The original battery compartment is swapped out for ZPower’s retrofit battery compartment, which allows any compatible hearing aid to use rechargeable silver-zinc batteries.
The Phonak and Signia solutions are based on the same kind of lithium-ion technology found in your mobile phone. Lithium-ion batteries provide more power than earlier rechargeable solutions for hearing aids that were based on Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) technology. NiMH solutions suffered from shorter battery life and less stable power output.
Phonak Audéo B-R
Audéo B-R is touted as “the first mainstream lithium-ion rechargeable hearing aid.” Phonak claims the new Audéo B-R will last 24 hours on full charge, including up to 80 minutes of wireless streaming. The new product is built on “Belong,” the newest processing platform from Phonak. Phonak mini charger shown.
The Cellion primax is billed as “the only inductive, wireless and contact-free chargeable hearing aid in the world.” Apparently one-upping Phonak on operating time, Cellion primax claims it can run for “at least 24 hours with unlimited streaming.” Both the Audeo B-R and the Cellion primax have sealed battery doors.
Lithium-ion batteries are a proven, familiar solution, and the new class of lithium-ion rechargeable hearing aids are easy to recharge and last for a full day. With these welcome improvements come some potential limitations, including:
- Safety: Lithium-ion is a poison, and hearing aids are small enough to swallow, presenting a hazard to children and pets. And you’ve heard about the Samsung phones whose batteries catch fire? They’re based on lithium-ion technology.
- Sealed Case: The fire hazard dictates that the lithium-ion battery be integrated into a sealed case. If it runs out of power while still in use, the hearing aid cannot run on a normal disposable battery but must be taken out of commission while it recharges. And when a lithium-ion battery reaches the end of its life, it can’t be replaced by the user but must be swapped out by the audiologist (or other service provider).
- Power Limitations: If you stream a lot of audio (from an MP3 player of mobile phone, etc.), there’s a possibility batteries may not last the full 24-hour day. This shouldn’t affect most people though, since 12-16 hours would be a typical day of hearing aid use.
However, Phonak and Sivantos (formerly Siemens Hearing Instruments) note that their sealed cases and rugged construction resolve any safety concerns. Both manufacturers have been providing quality hearing aids for decades and both have excellent records for safety and performance.
ZPower’s rechargeable batteries are based on silver-zinc technology, which was originally developed by NASA for its Apollo moon missions. ZPower offer a retrofit battery compartment for many popular hearing aid models, enabling users to stick with the products they already own and are familiar with. Like the lithium-ion batteries, they provide power for a day of use.
The main current drawback of silver-zinc technology is that it’s currently only available as a retrofit system for certain existing hearing aid brands. You can contact ZPower for a list of traditional hearing aid models that work with the ZPower rechargeable system. [Or visit the ZPower compatibility page for a list all hearing aid models currently capable of retrofit.]
In the meantime, ZPower is promoting several significant advantages of its silver-zinc technology:
- Flexibility: ZPower’s removable rechargeable batteries can be easily replaced by standard disposable hearing aid batteries in the event of an emergency. The hearing aids can run on the disposables until they can be recharged at night.
- Safety: Silver-zinc is non-flammable, non-toxic and 100% recyclable.
- Smaller footprint: Higher energy density means a silver zinc battery can come in a smaller package than comparable lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.
Which Rechargeable Option is Right for You?
Integrated lithium-ion solutions are easy to use, and they meet the one-charge-a-day standard that hearing-aid users have been waiting for. For consumers looking to purchase new hearing aids – and who aren’t concerned by the sealed case – lithium-ion rechargeable hearing aids present an excellent option.
The silver-zinc solution from ZPower delivers the same one-charge-a-day standard to users of existing hearing aids, but with added flexibility. Having the backup option of using disposable batteries may add a sense of security for those who worry about running out of power when they need it most. If you are frustrated with changing disposable batteries, it may be worth consulting ZPower’s list of compatible devices, to see if your hearing aids can be converted.
In other words, patients searching for rechargeable solutions in 2017 will no longer need to wait, because now there are multiple viable solutions available. Looking down the line, we should expect to see further developments from the other major hearing aid manufactures, especially if the products put forward by Sivantos and Phonak prove to be a hit. And ZPower is developing new products that will retrofit additional hearing aid models and is investing heavily in the research and development that will deliver better battery life in smaller packages.