There has been mounting evidence over the last decade or so which shows that untreated hearing loss can contribute in a significant way to cognitive decline and dementia. Luckily the impact of hearing loss on cognitive decline also appears to be modifiable. Recently it has been shown, at the University of Melbourne, that hearing aids do not only slow down cognitive decline, but appear to actually improve cognitive functioning with use. This improvement is correlated with the usage time of the hearing aids. So the more you wear them, the better it is for your brain.
What does this have to do with the Oticon More hearing aid?
Oticon was quite early to the party when it came to their marketing term, BrainHearing™. They have long realised that hearing aids aren't just concerned with compensating for the damage in the ear. They have been actively developing algorithms and features designed to give the most natural hearing possible while stimulating the brain as much as possible. This really came into play with their release of the Oticon OPN in 2016. OPN was a significant step towards a true brain hearing platform, giving users full access to all the sound around them. It did come with some limitations due to technology, despite having the most powerful hearing aid chip at the time.
Oticon More was announced today, 1 December 2020 and I have searched far and wide to gather as much information available in order to make my assumptions, which I share in this article. (UPDATE: Oticon has a launch event for the Oticon More on the 8th of December and I have amended the article to include the insights gained here as well)
Oticon More is a hearing aid designed to take this decade or more worth of learnings and combine them in a hearing aid capable of delivering as much sound as possible, whilst keeping things very natural and taking the individual hearing aid user's hearing loss into account. Technically this sounds like an impossible task, but Oticon has a brand new approach in addressing such a large challenge in a small and discreet hearing aid.
Oticon More works similar to the brain
The new Oticon More has a brand new, very powerful chip, called Polaris™, driving the hearing aid. It has 16 times the capacity as well as twice the precision and speed of the previous generation Velox™ chip. It scans the sound environment 500 times a second (OPN did this a 100 times a second). It then uses a machine learning technique called a deep neural networks to break the soundscape into its various component parts in real-time. The deep neural network (computer brain) then considers the most important parts of the sound (e.g. speech) and gives them emphasis over other less important signals, like noise. The sound scene is then recompiled keeping everything balanced and clear, while taking the user's hearing loss into account. This way the user has access to all the sound in the particular environment, which keeps the brain engaged. The system assists the user by giving the most important parts of the sound scene more focus and clarity. The end result should be that the user has complete awareness of all the sounds in the environment, whilst also being able to clearly hear and understand what they need to, effortlessly.
Computer brain in Oticon More
To understand how this works, I need to get a bit more technical here. A deep neural network is a subset of Artificial intelligence and apparently works very much like a human brain as it learns from experience. Oticon has taught the brain in the More Hearing aid with 12 Million sound scene examples. Each time the deep neural network gets things wrong, the connections that lead to that "wrong" decision gets weaker. Each time it gets things right, the connections in the network get stronger. Eventually it gets things right most or all of the time. This is pretty similar to how a human child learns to recognise faces, crawl, walk or speak.
This is very different from the way hearing aids algorithms have been created up to date. Hearing aids typically get given a set of human designed criteria and then makes fixed changes based on these criteria. This limits the hearing aid to what humans can figure out or imagine. It is also very fixed, allowing only some changes by the user or hearing professional. Machine learning may be used to help develop these algorithms, but the actual learning up to now has been done outside of the hearing aid.
A deep neural network (DNN), however is a system that learns from its mistakes and successes, improving consistently. I certainly hope that Oticon gives the user some way of further training the neural network in the More Hearing aid. It would also be great if it were possible to share these learnings with other global users anonymously as everyone would benefit from these continual improvements. We'll just have to wait and see what the system is capable of once we have more information available.
(UPDATE: Oticon has confirmed that the neural network embedded in the Oticon More hearing aid is fully trained. So no more learning takes place. They explained that a neural network can become over-trained whihc means it could be so specific that it cannot generalised unknown situations anymore. For instance if you wore a DNN hearing aid that is learning in a country that only speaks American English for a while and then move to France, the network may be unable to understand that French is a language containing speech, which needs emphasis. So the DNN built into the more is optimally trained with those 12 Million sound scenes, making it capable of adjusting correctly to unknown sound scenes as well.)
This is the first time that a deep neural network is built into the hearing aid itself, allowing it to instantly adapt to novel situations using past experience.
Oticon More Hearing Aid Styles
Oticon More is set to be initially released in the MiniRite -R style (over the ear with slim wire going into the ear) with Rechargeable battery. This is by far the most popular style and it makes sense why this might be first. I would expect other styles to roll out later, as per previous launches.
Oticon More will be available in a variety of familiar Oticon colours (7 colours) as well as a new bright pink colour (Hear Pink).
Oticon More Connectivity
All the usual Oticon Accessories work with More
It appears that Oticon More hearing aid will be compatible with the same accessories as Oticon OPN and OPN S. These include the remote control, TV Adaptor 3.0 & ConnectClip.
Oticon More is available in three technology levels:
Oticon More 1 - Premium level hearing aid with all the bells and whistles
The levels differ based on the amount of situations it can be set for and a few other features which affect performance.
Oticon More is available now (Updated 6/1/21)