Masking and social distancing have made it possible for many to venture out into the world during the pandemic—but they can be hard on people who don’t hear well. Hearing aid users, in particular, may find themselves struggling to comprehend masked speakers. Hearing aid company Starkey says the new release of its Livio Edge AI hearing aids, which uses artificial intelligence to enhance speech and adds a host of wearable technology features, including find my phone option and fall alerts, is designed to help mitigate those problems. HomeCare chatted with Dr. Sara Burdak, chief audiology officer at Starkey, to learn more.

HomeCare: When did you realize widespread mask usage might create issues for people with hearing loss? How does this new line help make up for mask usage?

Sara Burdak: The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that, without a doubt, hearing is essential. People with hearing loss use lip-reading cues and facial expressions to help determine what a person is saying. Masks take that valuable communication skill away. At Starkey, we heard people’s concerns and are innovating our technology to help. Not only can Edge Mode compensate for people wearing masks, it’s also helping people with hearing loss overcome the reduction in speech comprehension due to social distancing.

HomeCare: Tell me what’s new about this hearing aid line? What was the primary goal in developing it?
Sara Burdak: During the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks are making it particularly difficult for people with hearing loss to communicate. Of course, we want people to be safe and prevent the spread of the virus, and we are very proud to share that our newest technology is helping to mitigate those communication challenges. Using edge artificial intelligence, Livio Edge AI hearing aids can instantly optimize for speech understanding when the wearer is communicating with another person wearing a mask. Edge Mode for masks optimizes for mask type, social distance and background noise to deliver greatly enhanced speech understanding and clarity.

HC: Do you have a target user in mind?
Burdak: One of the most common causes of hearing loss is aging, but there are numerous factors that may lead to noise-induced hearing loss at a much younger age than expected. There’s a stereotype that hearing aids are only for the elderly. It’s Starkey’s mission to break that stigma and empower anyone with hearing loss to take full control of their hearing health, no matter their age. By adding a rechargeable BTE with a telecoil, we now offer a full suite of products that provides more convenience and improved ease of use to fit the lifestyle needs of everyone.

For individuals who spend a lot of time alone or have social barriers because of COVID-19, this new technology can help connect them to loved ones and their hearing healthcare professionals remotely. Through the Thrive Care app, users can share useful information like step count and social engagement levels with designated contacts. With Hearing Care Anywhere, Starkey’s new remote programming feature, hearing aid users can reach their hearing health professional for real-time adjustments to their devices.

HC: What do you think might be the future potential for AI and hearing aids? 
Burdak: At Starkey, we’ve made the most advanced artificial intelligence technology available to more patients than ever before. The culmination of technological innovation arriving on the market today will not only help patients hear better but help hearing health care professionals operate more effectively and efficiently across the board. We believe telehealth services are going to play a vital role in the future of the hearing industry.

HC: How about for the additional data-tracking and health applications; are there more things you can see users being able to do with their hearing aids down the road?
Burdak: These new features of Livio Edge AI offer patients the ability to achieve near on-demand hearing adjustments, as well as increased opportunities for remote care, further reducing the need for an in-office visit. This not only benefits the user, but the hearing health care professional who can trust their patient is equipped with the best technology possible.

Starkey is revolutionizing the hearing aid, but it’s just the beginning. Artificial intelligence and integrated sensors make it possible to push the hearing industry even further. Starkey is using technology to improve patients’ lives. Our president and CEO, Brandon Sawalich, has made this a company that prioritizes big ideas and pushes the hearing industry forward. We are using technology to help people hear better and live better. There have been more developments in hearing aids in the past seven years than in the past 70.