by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Cochlear’s BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) is a cool idea. It uses bone conduction to help people with single-sided deafness and conductive losses hear better. However, in my opinion, traditional bone-anchored hearing aids have one serious drawback—a titanium abutment (post) is screwed into your skull with the post sticking up though your skin. Unfortunately, whenever anything sticks through your skin there is a constant risk of infection. And infections and other problems do occur in some people with BAHA aids.
Now Sophono, Inc. of Boulder, CO, has improved on the BAHA concept by doing away with the post sticking through your skin. Instead, on their Alpha 1 bone-anchored hearing device, they use two magnets implanted in your skull behind your ear to hold the external part of the bone anchored hearing aid (the audio processor) in place—much like the way the exterior coils of cochlear implants are held in place by an implanted internal magnet that attracts the external magnet attached to the coil.
Once the incision heals, the risk of infection reduces to virtually nil. The magnet on the bottom of the external audio processor holds it tightly to the internal magnet. The output of the Alpha are vibrations, not sounds, that are conducted via the skull to the inner ear where they are converted to electrical impulses just as your ears do with sounds received via the ear canal.
So how well does Sophono’s Alpha 1 stack up to Cochlear’s BAHA? According to Richard Hansen, Vice-President of Commercial Development for Sophono, “Performance-wise they are roughly the same” so you get the advantages of the BAHA without the risk of infection.
Why would you want to get the Alpha? There are several reasons where you might find it more attractive than traditional hearing aids. First, the Alpha device is designed for people with single-sided deafness and for people with conductive hearing losses. In addition, it can help children with aural artesia (no external opening to their ear canals) and microtia (small or missing external ears). Furthermore, it can help you if you have chronic infections in your ear canals, or if you are unable to wear traditional hearing aids for some reason.
Sophono’s new Alpha 2 processor, due out in January, 2013 has several cool features. It comes with 5 strengths of magnets—so you get a comfortable fit no matter how thick or thin your scalp is. It has two microphones. Thus, depending on the background noise, you can switch between omni-directional or directional sound pick-up. It has a DAI (direct audio input) jack—so you can plug in your iPod or other audio or assistive device via a patch cord. And for pediatric wearers, there is a tamper-proof battery door. You won’t have to worry about your child accidentally opening the battery door and swallowing the battery.
For those that already have the Alpha 1, here’s some good news—there will be a trade-in/upgrade path so you’ll not miss out on the additional benefits of the Alpha 2.
To learn more about this cool new hearing device, visit Sophono’s website.