Published: 11:15, July 7, 2023 | Updated: 11:18, July 7, 2023
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Back within earshot
By Li Xiaoyun in Hong Kong

Inspired by a desire to help the hearing impaired, a Hong Kong entrepreneur has devoted himself to developing a system which transmits sound waves to a person’s inner ear through the skull


Do you find yourself turning up the volume of your music player unawares? Do you have an unpleasant “ringing” tone in your ears? Have you had a sudden loss of hearing? You may not be alone. 

According to Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department, up to 246,200 residents in the special administrative region, or 3.3 percent of the city’s population, had hearing difficulties in 2020.

Globally, more than 1.5 billion people, or one-fifth of the population, suffer from some form of hearing loss and, at least 430 million of them may require rehabilitation services, according to a report by the World Health Organization in 2021.

However, the WHO data showed that only 17 percent of those with hearing disorders wear hearing aids. 

Stephen Lam Yuk’s father had hearing loss problem. Whenever they had a meal in a restaurant, Lam would find it embarrassing when other diners gave them strange stares as he had to talk loudly into his father’s ears. 

Having devoted himself to sound technology for years, Lam has given serious thought to how science and technology can benefit society. His father’s hearing problem prodded him to develop an affordable and user-friendly hearing aid to help the elderly who may have lost some quality of life due to hearing impairment.

In 2022, Lam and his team developed Dai3mimi — a hearing aid fitted with a patent material conduction system — after more than two years of arduous but fruitful research and development. 

Dai3mimi, which in Japanese refers to the “third ear”, stands out from conventional hearing aids with its material conduction system, which produces acoustic resonance through a combination of metal and plastic materials that can directly transmit sound waves to a person’s inner ear through the skull. The parts of the auditory system that are most prone to degeneration, including the outer ear, the eardrum and the middle ear, are bypassed.

Lam commercialized Dai3mimi in Hong Kong, charging HK$7,900 ($1,008) per pair, a relatively low price compared with other devices of its kind in the industry.

Although 20 percent of the world’s population has hearing problems, hearing aids aren’t products that everyone can afford. 

Five major hearing healthcare groups based in Europe and the United States sold more than 14 million hearing aids in 2020, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the global market share.

As the dominant players in the market, they have great say in the pricing of products. For instance, one provider, which commands about one-third of the global market, has set prices for its devices in the range of HK$7,900 to HK$46,500.

Research by Healthy Hearing, a Los Angeles-based hearing-focused consumer website and clinic directory, has shown that the most common complaints from users of hearing aid devices involve the instruments’ defects, like poor sound quality and high noise levels.

“I would rather not hear than wear uncomfortable hearing aids,” says an 82-year-old man with presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) and dementia, whom Lam had met while promoting his product. 

Hearing loss does not only affect interpersonal communication. It may accelerate the evolution of tinnitus, depression and even dementia.       

A Korean survey of seniors aged 65 and above published in the Journal for Oto-Rhino-Laryngology and its Related Specialties shows that patients with hearing loss for more than 10 years would have a significantly higher prevalence of dementia than those with hearing loss for less than a decade.

A recent study published in The Lancet Public Health suggests that wearing hearing aids can be a minimally invasive and cost-effective treatment to lessen the potential impact of hearing loss on dementia. 

Based on the correlation between hearing impairment and cognitive disorders, Lam and his medical team developed a package of music therapy-based services to help patients prevent their condition from deteriorating.  

Dai3mimi’s prospects may be promising, but Lam’s R&D on the device was not all smooth sailing. Lam and his team had to tackle difficulties such as COVID-19-induced supply-chain disruptions and financial burdens stemming from the need to buy components at higher prices from major producers due to the closedown of smaller suppliers that had offered lower charges. 

But the efforts paid off. In 2022, Dai3mimi won the Gold Award for Smart Healthcare and the Grand Award for Smart Living in the 2022 Hong Kong ICT Awards, jointly established by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer and the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, for “outstanding information and communications technology inventions and applications”.

“One of my most fulfilling moments was when the 82-year-old man’s wife held my hand and said ‘thank you’ after a nine-month trial, in recognition of Dai3mimi,” recalls Lam.

With the aspiration to help more people in need, Lam has worked on market exploration and product updating to make reasonably-priced hearing aids. His team is eyeing markets in Southeast Asia and other cities of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area since “Dai3mimi has won a favorable response in Hong Kong”.

Elderly-care industries are distinct in different regions — some senior citizens, for instance, are taken care of at home by family members, while others are looked after by professionals in nursing homes. Thus, Lam’s team plans to diversify training and experience services to meet various market needs.   

The hearing-aid market was valued at $8.2 billion in 2021, and is estimated to surpass $11.4 billion by 2027, according to Mordor Intelligence, a market intelligence and advisory firm. 

Despite foreseeable market competition, Lam is confident about the skull-conduction technology on which Dai3mimi is based, as well as his business model of keeping track of the feedback from users.

He is working on new versions of Dai3mimi. Taking into account factors like a user’s age, occupation and the extent of a person’s hearing impairment, Lam hopes new generations of products, with refined designs, can help hearing-impaired people communicate in more complex surroundings, enabling them to reintegrate into social life, and bring those of working age back into the workplace.