Have you heard? Company markets a disposable option to aid younger ears

Sunday, July 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA – Thanks to too much cranked-up Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd, thousands of aging baby boomers are suffering hearing loss.

But old-fashioned, conspicuous hearing aids are not an option for many boomers reluctant to admit they need one and worried about looking old. And most smaller, in-the-ear canal devices may be too expensive for those with only mild hearing loss.

So one company thinks it has an answer: a hearing aid inexpensive enough in the short term that it can be disposable.

The Songbird aid, which became available this year, can be replaced when it wears out in 30 to 40 days. It costs about $80. Long-lasting in-the-ear digital aids can cost almost $5,000 for both ears and occasionally need new batteries.

Songbird is manufactured by Songbird Hearing Inc. of Cranbury, N.J.

To overcome the perception that hearing aids are only for the elderly, Songbird CEO Fred Fritz said the product will be marketed to address noise-induced – as opposed to age-related – hearing loss, the most common reason for baby boomers' hearing difficulties.

"Songbird is targeted to the vast population of baby boomers whose lifelong exposure to decibel-blasting music, high-pitched manufacturing noises and other forms of noise pollution has taken its toll on their hearing," said Helena Solodar, co-owner of Audiological Consultants of Atlanta, which sells the hearing aid.

To some in the industry, Songbird's innovation is more marketing than science.

"It is an interesting concept, but the circuitry is not that revolutionary," said Doug Hudson, CEO of HearingPlanet.Com, an Internet seller of hearing aid products based in Nashville, Tenn.

Thomas Powers, director of audiology for Siemens Hearing Instruments, a New Jersey-based maker and seller, said one concern is that users of disposable hearing aids might not get checkups as often because they don't require maintenance.

Ms. Solodar said Songbird's hearing aids cannot be dispensed without a hearing test or consultation with an audiologist.