Expert Insight : How many hearing aids are now rechargeable

Barry Freeman, PhD, is vice president of business development for ZPower, and has been leader and educator in the global audiology community for over 35 years. Prior to joining ZPower, he was CEO and president of Audiology Consultants Inc (ACI), a private audiology consulting firm, and senior director of Audiology and Education for Starkey Hearing Technologies, a global manufacturer of hearing aids. Dr Freeman has served as chair and professor of Audiology at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) and has taught full time or as an adjunct professor in some of the most distinguished audiology programs in the country. Additionally, he owned and practiced for 20 years at the Center for Audiology in Clarksville, Tenn, and Hearing Services of Kentucky in Hopkinsville, Ky. He is a past president of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), served on the AAA Board of Directors for 6 years, and continues to serve on several professional boards.

Q & As: This Week’s Top Selections

It seems like a lot of hearing aids are now using the ZPower rechargeable battery system. What’s the actual number of hearing aids now using it? Any estimates on how many new hearing aids sold are rechargeable (ZPower and others combined)?
ZPower has had great success in the past 12-18 months. In 2016, we launched a single product, but in 2017, we added an additional 8 hearing aid models that are compatible with the ZPower Rechargeable System. In 2018, we anticipate compatibility with an additional 9 new hearing aid models.
There are not any “official” statistics regarding rechargeable hearing aids, although the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) plans to add “rechargeable” as a new category in 2018 to their hearing aid unit volume data. In 2016, the VA began offering specific models of rechargeable hearing aids, and in 2018 the VA is expanding their offerings of rechargeable products. So, combined with the commercial market sales, this is definitely a fast-growing market segment and not just a smaller “consumer niche.”

This fact sheet was created to help consumers and hearing care professionals get the most out of their rechargeable batteries.
We’ve had a couple situations where it appears the rechargeable batteries are not lasting a full day after charging. Is this a problem with the batteries, the hearing aids, or the user?
This is, in fact, not a new problem in the industry.  Batteries tend to be the first item blamed when a hearing aid stops working. Before rechargeable batteries, disposable zinc-air batteries often were blamed when hearing aids didn’t run a full day. When that happened, the battery was thrown away and a new one was put in the hearing aid. It was common for manufacturers and hearing care professionals to give away a supply of these batteries with the hearing aids.  Now, however, when this happens with the rechargeable battery, it becomes a more complex issue and requires an evaluation of the hearing aids, the rechargeable system, and habits of the user. We have been working to educate the professional channels and consumers regarding “best practices” for using rechargeable hearing aids through articles, instructions, and columns like this one. ZPower has created a fact sheet that describes how consumers can get the most out of their rechargeable hearing aid batteries, and it is can be accessed here:
So, what types of things can the user do to ensure they get a full day out of a silver-zinc rechargeable hearing aid battery?
A characteristic of silver-zinc batteries is that, if given the opportunity, the battery will recharge to original full-capacity, and it is capable of doing this for at least one year.
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However, we have begun to recognize that many users treat silver-zinc batteries as if they perform and can be managed like disposable zinc-air batteries. Unfortunately, this is not true. In fact, some of the more traditional ways zinc-air batteries have been managed can have negative effects on the performance of rechargeable silver-zinc batteries.  This is one reason why ZPower has created a new set of FAQs and Counseling suggestions
Examples include:
Charge the hearing aids every night. Never try to get more than one day out of a single charge.
Charge Your Batteries When You’re Not Using Your Hearing Aid. If you remove your hearing aids during the day (i.e., to take a shower, go swimming, etc.), put the hearing aids back on the charger. A good rule of thumb to go by is: If the hearing aids are not on your ears, they should be in the charger. The batteries will not overcharge, and storing them in the charger will not decrease the overall lifespan of the battery. If the charger is not available, it’s OK to open the battery door for a few hours until you either need to wear your aids again or you can place them on the charger.
When the hearing aids are in the charger, always leave the charger plugged in with power. When the charger does not have power, the hearing aids will turn on and begin to drain the battery.
Only use an approved active drying system. If the drying system is not approved, then remove the batteries from the hearing aids before placing the aids in the drying system. Unapproved active drying systems may have temperature ranges that exceed the recommended rechargeable battery operating temperature. This could cause the silver-zinc rechargeable battery to over discharge and may damage the battery. ZPower has partnered with MG to bring a compatible dryer system to the market. During late summer of 2018, MG will be launching a retrofit drying system that will work with any ZPower charger. This system will provide charging, active drying and a UV light-all in one system.

Previous Q & A’s

Much like a car’s mileage range depends on its gas tank and the owner’s driving habits, the battery life of a hearing aid depends on the capacity of the battery, and the listening enviroments and use of the various hearing aid functions.
Q: How long should the battery last after a full charge?  How much does Bluetooth activity affect this? —Brent Spehar
A: This is a great and very important question.  Battery life is dependent on several factors including the amount of capacity of the battery, how fast the hearing aid drains the current, and the wear behaviors and habits of the user.
Much like how a car’s mileage range depends on its gas tank, the driving conditions, and the owner’s driving habits, a hearing aid’s battery life depends on the capacity of the battery, the wearer’s listening environments, and use of the various hearing aid functions, including audio streaming.
I like to use the example of an automobile.  How many gallons of gas does the fuel tank hold or, for hearing aid batteries, how many mAh capacity is in the battery?  How many miles per gallon does the car use or how many mA does the battery drain both when streaming and not streaming?  And, finally, is the car driven on the highway or in the city and is the air conditioner on or off?  Or, for hearing aids, how many hours per day does the hearing aid stream?  Does the hearing aid use 2.4 GHz streaming or does it is use NFMI with an intermediate device that has its own battery?  And, what features are turned on or off on the hearing aid?
Once you answer these questions, you can figure out “how long the battery will last after a full charge.” I gave some example calculations in the HRarticle:  The Changing Landscape of Hearing Aid Batteries (Hearing Review, October 31, 2017).
Please note a factor we have learned in our electronics’ lab.  Not all hearing aids are the same.  Some 2.4 GHz products have current drains averaging 4.8-5.0 mA when streaming while other 2.4 GHz products using lower power Bluetooth will drain the battery at 3.0-3.4 mA while streaming.  Some 2.4 GHz products when not streaming may have battery drains of 1.8-2.0 mA, while some of the newer products with bilateral beam-forming may drain the battery at 2.3-2.5 mA when not streaming.
The key is to know your products and know your patient’s listening habits.  This is critical to good counseling.
Q: Is the life of the hearing aid circuit reduced as a result of using the rechargeable system? It did happen when [previous models of hearing aids] were rechargeable. —Anjan Muhury
A: The ZPower Rechargeable System has been thoroughly evaluated by the hearing aid manufacturers and there is no indication that the system will have a negative effect on the life of the hearing aid circuit. The ZPower silver-zinc battery is designed to mimic the performance of traditional zinc-air batteries and is transparent to the DSP of the hearing aids. Extensive studies of hearing aids using the ZPower System also show the system including the ZPower silver-zinc batteries have no impact on the electrophysiologic performance of the hearing aids. Therefore, the ZPower System will not have a negative impact on the hearing aid circuitry or performance.
Q: What’s a realistic time frame for a rechargeable hearing aid battery to last?
A: Rechargeable silver-zinc batteries last about a year. They are removeable and therefore easily replaced. It is recommended that rechargeable silver-zinc batteries are replaced once a year by a hearing care professional.
Li-ion batteries are sealed within the hearing aid, and are usually removable only by the hearing aid manufacturer. They last approximately 4 to 5 years.
Q: What would happen if my patient accidentally places their hearing aids in the charger while they have zinc air batteries in them?
A: When the hearing aids are put on the charger, the charger will check to see what type of battery is in the hearing aid.  If the charger detects a disposable zinc air battery, the lights on the charger will turn red.  If the charger detects a silver-zinc battery, the lights on the charger will start blinking green; once the battery is fully charged, the lights will turn solid green.
Q: Can my patients overcharge a ZPower battery if they leave it in the charger for too long?
A: The batteries will not overcharge if left in the charger.  It is a best practice to put the hearing aids back on the charger when the hearing aids are not being worn during the day.  This will keep the hearing aids turned off and the batteries charged.  For long-term storage, if batteries will not be used for over 2 weeks, the rechargeable batteries should be removed from the hearing aids and stored in a location where they will not touch each other or other metal objects.
Q: What happens when the silver-zinc rechargeable battery is getting low on power?
A: The hearing aid wearer will hear the low battery warning.  Once the low-battery warning occurs or once a hearing aid shuts off due to a low battery condition, the battery door should not be opened and closed to reboot the hearing aid. Rebooting after the low battery warning can override the smart circuitry in the battery door into believing it has a traditional disposable battery installed and, although the hearing aid will continue to work for a short period, it may over-discharge the battery. If a low-battery warning from the hearing aids is received, the hearing aids should be placed in the charging base for charging or the batteries should be replaced with non-rechargeable batteries.  The rechargeable batteries should not be stored with metal objects such as keys or coins.
Q: How often should the batteries be charged?
A: The batteries should be fully charged every night. Once the hearing aids are finished charging, the indicator lights turn from blinking green to solid green. A full charge may take up to 7 hours—the charge time varies based on how much the battery was depleted during the day. Do not try to extend battery life by charging every other day, as this increases the chances of depleting the battery. A fully depleted battery will take longer to charge and may not fully charge in time for next use.
Q: What happens if the hearing aid wearer forgets to charge the battery at night?
A: They can use a disposable zinc-air battery until it is convenient to re-charge the batteries—ideally the rechargeable batteries should be charged the next night.  The rechargeable silver-zinc batteries are a gold color, so they will not be mixed up with zinc-air disposable batteries.  The rechargeable batteries should be stored in a safe place and should not be stored with metal objects such as keys or coins.

All hearing aids, regardless of the style, size, or technology level, have the same basic components: a microphone, an amplifier, a receiver, and a battery. The battery serves as the power source for hearing aids and is critical to ensuring they perform as intended.

Until recently, all hearing aid batteries were disposable. But now, many hearing aids also come in a rechargeable style. Let’s compare the two types of hearing aid batteries.

Rechargeable vs disposable hearing aid batteries

Disposable batteries

Disposable (zinc-air) batteries are available in four sizes and are color-coded. The batteries are air-activated, meaning they begin working when the color-coded tab is removed, allowing oxygen to enter the battery. Wait to remove and discard the tab until you are ready to use the battery. For longer battery life, remove the tab and let the battery sit for about one minute prior to placing it in the hearing aid.

Considerations:

Battery life — Disposable hearing aid batteries typically last 5-7 days, depending on the size of the battery size, needs of the user, complexity of the listening environments, wear time, stream time, and other factors.
Accessibility — Once a battery loses power, you’ll need to change it. It’s recommended you always keep spare batteries on hand: you can buy them online or at many convenience, grocery, or drug stores.
Portability — With disposable hearing aid batteries, there’s no need to travel with a charger. All you need are the hearing aids and batteries.

Rechargeable batteries

Rechargeable batteries are currently available for most standard hearing aid styles — BTEs , ITEs and RICs. If you’re interested in rechargeable hearing aids, ask your hearing professional about available systems.
Considerations:
No changing batteries — Rechargeable hearing aids ensure you do not have to deal with changing batteries, which can be a difficult and tedious task, especially for those with dexterity concerns.
Economical — After the initial cost of the devices, the cost can be less since you do not have to purchase batteries regularly.
Continuous use — Technology has reached the point where hearing aids can be charged once per day. With our Livio AI rechargeable system, you can get up to 24 hours of use with 1 hour of streaming, or 22 hours of use with 4 hours of streaming on a full charge.
Easy charging — Just drop the hearing aid(s) into the charger while you sleep (overnight is recommended).
Environmentally friendly — Over three years, two hearing aids will use more than 300 disposable hearing aid batteries. In the same conditions, only two rechargeable batteries would be used.

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