Exploring the Role of 3D Printing in Creating Custom-Fit Hearing Aids and Alleviating Dementia Risk


Charles R. Goulding and Preeti Sulibhavi discuss how companies in the medtech industry can leverage 3D printing to enhance customization and fit of hearing aids.

A little over a year ago we covered the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. However, OTC hearing aid sales have been slower than expected.

A recent article in the New York Times (NYT) pointed out the other potential health benefits of hearing aids. In Paula Span’s article titled, “A Challenging Over-the-Counter Market for Hearing Aids,” she provided some background on a 2020 Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care study that identified hearing loss as the greatest potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia.

You heard that correctly. Yes, specifically in older and less-affluent populations, the study found that hearing aids reduced the rate of cognitive decline by 48 percent, a difference that is “clinically meaningful.”

3D printing process for Widex hearing aids [Source: Disruptive Innovation]

There are opposing views and many contributing health factors to be considered as well. All that aside, wearing hearing aids is definitely something many seniors must do to communicate, maintain balance, and potentially reduce the risk of dementia on top of that. We have previously covered the eyeglasses integrated with hearing aids or “specaids” trend.

3D Printing and Hearing Aids

Ninety percent of hearing aids in the US are 3D printed. The developing application of 3D printing technology in the medtech industry is showing promising results, particularly in the fabrication of hearing aids. One such enterprise employing this technology is the Danish hearing aid manufacturer, Widex, which utilizes 3D printers for various stages of production.

The use of 3D printers is particularly beneficial in the creation of hearing aids, which require custom fitting to each patient’s ears. As we’ve seen with dental labs using 3D printers to tailor-make devices for their patients, audiologists are able to do much the same. Pharmacies like CVS, for example, keep 3D printers on-site to provide specialized services for seniors needing additional assistance with fitting over-the-counter hearing aids.

Taking the lead in this field, Phonak, a major hearing aid brand, has collaborated with EnvisionTEC (a forefront 3D printing company) to produce the smallest in-the-ear hearing aid to ever be printed. Additionally, Sonova, a well-known brand in the hearing aid industry, has also partnered with Phonak to 3D print their own hearing aids.

Seniors often resist using hearing aids due to their cumbersome size. However, 3D printed Phonak hearing aids are not only less noticeable but also greatly functional.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

The Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit, now a permanent feature, is available for companies engaged in the development of new or improved products, processes, or software.

3D printing can significantly enhance a company’s R&D Tax Credits. The wages of technical personnel involved in the creation, testing, and revision of 3D printed prototypes can be counted as part of the eligible time for the R&D Tax Credit. Similarly, the time spent on integrating 3D printing hardware and software, when used for process improvement, is considered an eligible activity. Moreover, when used for modeling and preproduction, the expenses of filaments used during the developmental stage can also be recuperated.

Whether it is used for creating and testing prototypes or for final production, 3D printing is a great indicator that R&D Credit eligible activities are taking place. Companies implementing this technology at any point should consider taking advantage of R&D Tax Credits.

Not Just “Hear” Say

While there is still some objection to making a conclusive connection between dementia and hearing loss, current research is finding that hearing-aid use can slow cognitive decline. The who and how are still being hashed out, but one thing is clear, the 3D printing industry should not overlook this finding. The medtech industry is one of the fastest growing sectors for the 3D printing industry to advance its technology and innovation.

Original source


“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”

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