Hearing Aid shopping tips

Some very common concerns are nicely addressed in this recent article in the Wall Street Journal:

It is a good thing that texting is so popular, because there is a good chance that many new retirees will rely on it in lieu of talking to one another.  (Unless they do something about their declining hearing…)

One in three Americans over age 60 and half of those over 85 have moderate hearing loss, according to the National Institutes of health.  After years of people listening to music through ear buds and headphones, that will only get worse. (Noise exposure at work without the use or availability of hearing protection has resulted in many gradually occurring hearing losses….)

Yet few people-perhaps not even your parents or other family members-plan for the cost of hearing aids, which can run from $2000 for a basic pair to more than $6000 for top –of-the line models.  Nor do they anticipate how hard it will be to obtain a device that fits and works well.    (Yet investing an hour of time for a hearing test and hearing aid evaluation will provide the information and experience to judge the benefit(s) of using amplification….)

Traditional Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids; it covers only the doctor’s exam and an audiologist’s test.  Private health insurance generally doesn’t cover hearing aids, either, though it might cover doctors’ visits.   (Only recently has there been a Medicare Supplement plan that has hearing aid coverage, albeit basic and limit, but it is a cost effective alternative to not doing anything about one’s hearing loss…..)

Federal employees have partial coverage, and veterans with service connect hearing loss can receive hearing aids free of charge.  Unions and some employers provide partial coverage, and if you are employed, you can set aside money for hearing aids in a flexible spending account.  But for the most part, older people are on their own.   (If you are still working, despite your age, and your hearing loss is causing a hardship at work, there are state funded assistance programs available…..)

You also are on your own when navigating hearing-aid providers, where you risk paying too much for hearing aids that make your life miserable because they don’t fit, are hard to operate and over amplify background noises.    (yes, there is always the “buyer beware” when it comes to retail purchases…..read the fine print!…know your professional…)

Be warned:  When choosing among dozens of models and complex features, your guides might be commissioned sales-people who have an incentive to load you up with expensive options you might not need.  But there are ways to improve your chances of getting the right devices at a fair price, even if you aren’t sure you need one yet.

Hearing loss is subjective and usually self-diagnosed.  If you find yourself bluffing when you can’t understand what your squeaky-voiced grandkid is saying, putting the TV volume on so loud your spouse and your dog leave the room, or turning on English subtitles when watching DVDs, it might be time to take a look at what is available to help your hearing (not just hearing aids,  but TV listeners, telephone amplifiers or captioned phones….)

An otolaryngologist-an ear, nose and throat doctor-will probably confirm what you already know, and will determine if there is anything medically he can do to help your hearing.   If there is nothing medically to be done, then he will send you to an audiologist, who will give you an audiological evaluation, and generally will review the results and discuss your options.       If you don’t suspect a medical problem (something you can also discuss with your family doctor), you can use this information as a baseline and to help you to determine you next step in helping your hearing.     (Note:   you can start with your family doctor to see if there is a medical condition or go straight to an Audiologist, who will be the professional that you will ultimately be referred to in the end for your evaluation).

The Hearing Loss Association of America (www.hearing –loss.org) has links to dozens of sites with information on finding hearing professionals and advocacy groups, as well as sites for specific groups, such as musicians and veterans.

Hearing-aid styles fall roughly into two categories:  devices worn outside the ear and those inside the ear, both of  which are largely invisible.  Another challenge is selecting features.  Some of the newer digital models have 360-degree scanning, for example, which allows the device to scan automatically for a dominant voice-say, the back-seat driver-and emphasize the sound coming from there.   Hearing is noise can be improved (improved signal to noise ratio), regardless of your degree of hearing loss.

Other options include sound equalizers, similar to those on MP# players, and sound-cancellation features, similar to headsets that muffle annoying noise.

With Bluetooth capability, you can use a discreet remote control to change volume, turn the device on and off, toggle between electronic devices, answer hands-free phone calls and stream music, sort of like having a miniature wireless headset in your ear.

As you might suspect, getting the right fit and the appropriate features isn’t a one-stop deal.  For the best outcome, you will need several visits-at least.

Not sure?   Consider a 30-day trial period.  If you sense the salesman is grinding his teeth at your many questions and requests for training, move on.   (Note:   read the fine print so that you are not stuck with the hearing aid after just 3 days of the “trial”.)

Premium features can increase the cost of the hearing device to $2000.00 or more per ear.  ( But, you may not need all the features….. for example:   basic automatic volume adjustment is usually standard on most digital hearing instruments, with an actual volume control only for fine tuning….)

Article was taken from:

“Hearing –Aid Shipping Tips”   An informative article by Ellen E. Schultz for The Wall Street Journal’s Conquering Retirement  section,  26 January  2013.

(Remember, at least at our practice, you can start with an instrument using the basic features that address your present hearing needs, and upgrade the instrument’s features within the 30 day trial period by just paying the difference.   Most present day digital hearing instruments have sufficient circuit flexibility to address additional hearing needs without adding new features or changing to a more costly instrument.  Or, you can just obtain the instrument with the more advanced technology probably at a cost savings, vs. waiting for a few years and paying more.)

The FDA also has an excellent article on hearing aids, and the proposed OTC (over the counter) option available at some retail outlets, such as CVS and Walgreen stores in 2023. To date, the online purchases for a very basic hearing aid will cost you around $900 per instrument, with access to controls through your smartphone’s bluetooth connection.

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