Hearing aids like other technologies are rapidly improving in function and decreasing in size from year to year. The average American patient over the age of 60 is bombarded with advertisements for the “best and latest digital hearing aid technology” on television, in newspaper ads, on the internet, and in the mail. How should one go about navigating the hearing aid technology scene? Let’s review some considerations for purchasing hearing aid technology.
These are some frequently asked questions that I get from patients:
· Can I just buy an over-the-counter amplifier from the drug store/online?
Amplifers work to raise the volume of everything in your environment. Think of it like using a volume control for life. It will increase of the volume of speech, but it will also increase the volume of background noise, non-speech sounds, and environmental sounds that aren’t needed for communication. They are a “one-size-fits-all” type of device and cannot be programmed specifically for your hearing loss and hearing needs. So for someone that has strictly a high-pitched hearing loss, the amplifier will get high-pitched amplification as well as low-pitched amplification, which would not be needed to treat their hearing loss. In general, the quality of the device is MUCH LOWER than even an entry level hearing aid, which is reflected in the price of the device.
· Is this [specific brand/make] hearing aid appropriate for my hearing loss?
This is a consideration that your audiologist will discuss with you. Many patients see advertisements for very tiny “invisible” hearing aids that fit in the ears, but that particular device may not provide enough volume or provide the benefits/features you desire or need in a device. The audiologist will be able to determine what is most appropriate for your particular hearing loss.
· Can I buy a used hearing aid and have it programmed for my hearing loss?
We see this happen occasionally, but not often. The considerations for this service are: does the hearing aid provide enough volume to be appropriate for your hearing loss, are the technology features appropriate for your needs, is the hearing aid dated technology, is the hearing aid compatible with the audiologist’s software? We generally find hearing aids given to a patient by family members, etc. are many times dated technology and do not have a warranty. Often times practices will charge a fitting fee and follow-up programming fees if a patient brings a hearing aid obtained from an outside resource.
· Which level of technology is right for me?
Again, this is a consideration your audiologist will discuss with you during your hearing aid consultation. Not every patient needs a “top-of-the-line” hearing aid with all the bells and whistles. The consultation should include a lifestyle assessment to determine which devices are most appropriate for you.
· Do I have to change batteries on the hearing aids?
Traditionally yes, the hearing aids have small batteries that need to be changed frequently. Depending on the size of the hearing aid, the wireless features it has, and the amount of power needed for your hearing loss, batteries may last anywhere from 2-10 days before requiring replacement. In our practice, hearing aid batteries are covered with your hearing aid service package for 1-3 years. Recently, manufacturers have been working to produce a reliable rechargeable hearing aid product. Rechargeable hearing aids have pros and cons to consider as well, but they are available.
· Are hearing aids worth it?
At our practice, we believe that hearing aids are an essential part of the puzzle in treating your hearing loss. They are not necessarily a “quick fix” or just a device that we send you off with and hope it works out. Treating hearing loss with hearing technology requires patience and dedication on behalf of the patient and their family. We know that treating hearing loss is a process, so we will want to bring you back for several appointments during your trial period to make sure we are making the fine-tuning adjustments needed for you to hear your best. We also want to spend time with you and your communication partners to discuss other puzzle pieces necessary for treating hearing loss, such as communication strategies and realistic expectations for the hearing aids. Even with this being said, the majority of our patients will say “Yes absolutely, hearing aids are worth it. I had no idea what I had been missing!” If you’re not sure, come try them! We work on a 75 day trial period with the hearing aids.
· What is the next step to determine if hearing aids are right for me?
If you have been seen for a comprehensive hearing evaluation and hearing aids have been determined to be appropriate for you, the next step is to schedule a hearing aid consultation. At our practice the consolations are a free, one hour appointment where we will spend time talking about your hearing loss, your specific listening needs, your treatment goals, and your listening lifestyle. This information will guide us in an appropriate recommendation for treatment.