Buying a Hearing Aid: Part 2 of 3
If you haven’t yet read Part 1 of this series, please go back and read that first. Before we begin Part 2, please open this list of most popular hearing aids in a new window; we’re going to reference it quite a bit throughout this post.
Now that you’ve got a great pool of hearing aids to choose from, it’s time to start sorting through them and finding out which hearing aids will be best for you. So let’s get to work!
Step 1: Classify Your Hearing Loss
First, let’s get rid of all the hearing aids on that list that simply won’t work for your hearing loss. We went through the technical specifications of each hearing aid on our list and determined the type of hearing loss it is meant for. Now it’s up to you to see which of those might work for you.
Not sure which to choose? Here’s a very general guide.
Mild: You’re turning the TV up louder than normal and it sounds like people just aren’t speaking clearly. It is beginning to be harder to understand women and children’s voices.
Moderate: It sounds like everyone is mumbling, and you have to be facing people to understand what they are saying. When people speak to you, you may find yourself picking out certain words and trying to piece them together to understand what is being said.
Severe: Everyone that speaks to you has to significantly raise their voice in order for you to understand them. Understanding speech in the presence of background noise is almost impossible.
Profound: You understand little-to-no speech and rely on lipreading or assistive listening devices.
Did you see that?! If you selected your hearing loss, your list of potential hearing aids just got much smaller. Don’t mourn the ones we lost, they would have never given you the hearing you deserve!
Now, let’s narrow that list down even more and see which of these hearing aids are compatible with your lifestyle.
Step 2: Classify Your Lifestyle
Did you know that in a quiet room with just two people speaking to each other, a $3000 premium hearing aid will sound the same as a $1000 basic hearing aid? For this reason, it’s very important that you consider your lifestyle and how that relates to your needs from a hearing aid. If you have a calm lifestyle and spend most of your time in quiet listening environments, you should buy basic or mid-range hearing aids. If you have a very active lifestyle, you would be wise to invest in more advanced hearing aids that can keep up with your lifestyle.
Not sure which to choose? Here’s a very general guide.
Quiet: Most of your time is spent in quiet environments and your greatest challenge is understanding speech in quiet one-on-one settings.
Casual: You’re out-and-about a few days a week. You sometimes attend events with small groups such as a cooking class or church group.
Active: You are always on the go and regularly spend time in noisy, difficult listening environments like restaurants, dining halls, classrooms, and outdoor activities.
You’re well on your way to finding a great hearing aid, but there’s still one more round of major cuts to make. It’s time to decide which style of hearing aid you prefer.
Step 3: Determine What Style of Hearing Aid You Want
To put it simply, the “style” of a hearing aid is what the hearing aid looks like. The open-fit, small behind-the-ear style is the most popular style, for good reasons. However, there are certain benefits to custom-molded, in-the-ear hearing aids as well.
Is there a relationship between the degree of my hearing loss and the style which would be best for me?
Sometimes. In general, larger, powerful behind-the-ear hearing aids are reserved for patients with severe hearing losses. Alternatively, the smallest in-the-ear hearing aids are only suitable for patients with mild to moderate hearing losses, as their small size limits their power. There are exceptions to every rule. If you are interested in a particular style, it is worth mentioning to your hearing provider.
Note sure which to choose? Here are some pros and cons to each style. Note: A skilled hearing provider may be able to overcome some of the “cons” associated with the styles below.
- Custom-molded for a comfortable fit
- Easy to handle and adjust
- Available in a wide range of sizes including 100% invisible-in-canal
- Most natural sound quality
- Most comfortable style available (when worn open-fit without a custom ear mold)
- Due to the increase in space, can be equipped with the latest technology and features
- Long battery life of 12+ days (depending on a number of factors)
At this point, there are probably only about a dozen hearing aids on the list left to choose from. It may not seem like that’s very many options, but we’ve made sure it’s a wide enough assortment and that it represents hearing aids with slightly different features and capabilities, which we’ll get in to next.
Step 4: Determine which features are important to you
When it comes to your day-to-day use and satisfaction with hearing aids, there may be no factor more important than choosing the correct features. Traditionally, choosing the features of your hearing aids has been the sole job of your hearing provider. This is still the case most of the time, because there are many features which are technical in nature, and it is your hearing provider’s job to assess your hearing profile and determine which of these more technical features will be of benefit. However, there are some features that as a patient, you should definitely have a say in. So we’re not going to help you choose all the features for your hearing aid, that would be impossible and irresponsible of us, but we are going to help you get 75% of the way there.
Not sure which to choose? Here’s a general guide:
Push-button: A push-button is a small button on the hearing aid that allows you to change the volume or program of the hearing aid. For a long time, a push-button was a necessity. However, a lot of hearing aids today are compatible with smartphone apps or accessories which will allow them to be remotely controlled; so push-buttons are not always required. If you don’t have some way to remotely control your hearing aids, you’ll want to have a push-button for the added flexibility it provides.
Ear-to-ear: Ear-to-ear is the feature that allows a pair of hearing aids to communicate and work with each other to reduce noise and increase speech clarity in a variety of listening environments. If you plan on purchasing a pair of hearing aids, ear-to-ear is a must-have feature.
TV streaming: With the purchase of a streamer accessory, stream sound from the TV directly to your wireless hearing aids. The streamer accessory plugs in to the back of your TV and sends a wireless signal to your hearing aids. TV streaming is nice because it allows you to adjust the TV to whatever volume you prefer, while still allowing for a comfortable listening experience for others in the room.
Smartphone app: Many hearing aid manufacturers have built free apps that you can use to control the volume and other sound settings of your hearing aids. These apps allow you to simply and discreetly adjust your hearing aids, straight from your smartphone. A good example of these apps is the TouchControl app, by Siemens. You can download that app for free right now just to get a feel for what using an app for a remote control is like.
Made for iPhone: Made for iPhone hearing aids can be paired directly to an iPhone via Bluetooth, for the wireless streaming of phone calls, music, and more. Unlike all other “wireless” or “Bluetooth-friendly” hearing aids, Made for iPhone hearing aids do not require any intermediary accessories and the hearing aids connect directly to the iPhone. Made for iPhone hearing aids can be controlled by a smartphone app which allows for a host of other neat features that let you do things like find your lost hearing aids, geo-tag locations and save sound settings, precisely control your hearing aids, and much more. Made for iPhone hearing aids are much more than simply amplification devices, they are smart wearable devices, aka “hearables.”
Tinnitus therapy: If you have tinnitus (ringing in the ears), this could be a very beneficial feature. Hearing aids with this feature will play soft, calming, personalized tones designed to reduce the sensations of tinnitus and sometimes mask it completely. Before you make this a must-have feature, it’s important to know that many people claim that wearing any hearing aids (even hearing aids without tinnitus therapy), significantly reduces their tinnitus.
Rechargeable: Rechargeable hearing aids use special batteries that do not need to be replaced every few days or weeks like traditional batteries. Whenever you’re not wearing your hearing aids, simply place them in their charging accessory and they’ll be fully recharged in about 6 hours. Each full charge will power your hearing aids through approximately 14 hours. If you are ever without your charger and your hearing aids lose power, they can also be powered by traditional hearing aid batteries. Rechargeable batteries need to be replaced about once a year and replacements cost roughly $20 per battery.
Waterproof: Many hearing aids are water resistant and do a great job of repelling moisture and sweat. However, only a few hearing aids are truly waterproof, having earned the international rating of IP68. Hearing aids that have earned this rating can be technically classified as waterproof and can withstand being fully submerged in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. These hearing aids are also dustproof and shock proof, so if you work outdoors they are an excellent choice.
Telecoil: A telecoil is a small wireless antenna built into a hearing aid that allows the hearing aid to receive wireless signals from venues like airports, zoos, and stadiums. Have you ever seen a sign like this one? That sign means that the venue is telecoil-friendly. If you have a hearing aid with a telecoil in it, with the touch of a button on the hearing aid, you can “tap in” to the venue’s sound system, and receive sound wirelessly, directly through your hearing aids. In addition, switching your hearing aid to “telecoil mode” while talking on a landline phone (and some cell phones), can significantly improve the clarity of your phone conversations.
Free accessories: While not a hearing aid “feature” per se, if you’re interested in streaming phone calls, music, television, and more to your hearing aids, you should strongly consider purchasing hearing aids that have accessories included at no additional cost. Accessories are expensive, and can sometimes run close to $700 each! Some of the hearing aids on our list will include these accessories at no additional cost and will save you a significant amount of money.
Phew! As you can see, there is quite a lot to consider regarding hearing aid features. If you’re still not sure what features you really want or need in a hearing aid, rest assured that it is the job of your hearing provider to listen to your needs and select the features which will be most appropriate for you.
Step 5: Read user reviews
Did you know that identical twins with identical hearing losses could be fit with the same hearing aids and have very different opinions of the hearing aid? For this reason, hearing aid reviews are very subjective and should be taken with a grain of salt. Does this mean that hearing aid reviews are worthless? Absolutely not! There are some aspects of hearing aids which can be objectively reviewed; like the functionality of accessories and smartphone apps, battery life, user controls, the build quality of the hearing aid, and so forth.
Once you’ve read some reviews and learned a bit more about some of the hearing aids on your list, you’ll want to find out how you can get the best deal and where you can make your purchase. In Part 3 of this series, we’ll explain just that!