Thursday, May 2, 2019

Hearing Aids after SHTF

While checking on another social medium, I saw someone ask about what to do about hearing aids in an emergency. He was worried because most hearing aids (the in-the-ear type) use tiny batteries which have a short life (3-7 days of use).  Being basically deaf without his hearing aids, he was looking for options or advice on how to stay alive without being able to hear much.

There were several tongue-in-cheek answers that suggested finding an “ear trumpet,” one of the old metal funnels that gather sound when you stick the small end in your ear. A few other people chimed in to suggest stockpiling batteries since the type used are not rechargeable and have a moderate shelf-life (2-4 years). I sent him a link to a cheap on-body style hearing aid like those used 50 years ago and which uses more common rechargeable AAA batteries, then I started researching hearing aids. I’ve been careful with my hearing, using ear plugs or muffs when around loud noises, but I have friends and family that weren’t as prudent.

Hearing is one of the more important senses for maintaining Situational Awareness, especially after dark. As we’ve mentioned in the past, knowing what is going on around you is a big part of being able to avoid trouble. Being able to hear someone or something approaching will give you an opportunity to avoid unwanted interactions that can vary from wildlife entering your camp, to muggers/thugs following you in the street, to approaching bad weather.
Hearing is also important for Operational Security. You’ve probably been around people who are hard of hearing who have their TV/radio/phone turned up to max volume; they’re mildly annoying under normal circumstances, but will be easy to find in a SHTF situation. When you can’t hear how much noise you’re making, it’s hard to move quietly. And that can spell death in a dangerous situation.

Modern in-ear hearing aids use zinc/air cells as a power supply; a good overview of hearing aid batteries can be found here. Zinc/air cells use the oxygen in air reacting with zinc to produce electricity and are a primary cell. I believe I’ve covered the differences between primary and secondary cells in one of my posts about batteries; to summarize, primary cells consume a material to produce electricity and can’t easily be recharged, while secondary cells use a reversible chemical reaction to produce electricity, and can be charged. Primary cells tend to produce more power per ounce than secondary cells, so they’re a good choice for something as small as a hearing aid, but they are disposable.

The fairly short shelf-life comes from the fact that the batteries are designed to react with air. Unless you have some way of storing them in an oxygen-free container, they’re only going to last about 4 years from the date of manufacture. Typical “alkaline” AA or AAA batteries will sit around for up to 10 years and still provide power.

The largest common zinc/air cell provides 845 milli-Watt-hour (mWh) of power. Compare that to a standard AAA at 1850 mWh or a standard AA at 4200 mWh, both of which can be found in rechargeable forms, and you'll see it's time to start looking for a solution that uses a more common battery.
A quick search on Amazon found this pocket amplifier. At less than $30, it fits in a pocket, uses AAA batteries, and boosts sound by 110dB (enough to be painful). This would be worth looking into if you need a backup for your in-the-ear hearing aids. There are several others like it on Amazon; just search for “pocket hearing aid.” If your hearing is poor in both ears, look for one that has stereo microphones and ear plugs to help with your ability to locate the source of a noise.
An alternative that isn’t as comfortable for long-term use would be a pair of sound-amplifying ear muffs. Commonly found in hunting supply stores, they usually have moderate amplifying ability with an electronic cut-off if the incoming sound is too loud (like a gunshot). I have a couple of pairs of shooting muffs for hearing protection; one of them does have decent amplification, but it uses up batteries pretty fast. I’d guesstimate that the $50 pair I own would suck a pair of AAA batteries dry in about two days of constant use.

Your hearing is an important survival tool. Take care of it, and if it's diminished, make the most of it. 

1 comment:

  1. I watched a video last week about the technological "life-hacks" used in Cuba. One of the devices was a plug in "charger" for hearing aid batteries. It's surely not UL listed, but a device like that could be useful as a last resort.


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