Is it possible to upgrade my current hearing aid without purchasing a new device? I wear Phonak.

Christopher S. Frink, AuD

Audiologist in Salem

14 November 2016 - 6.13K Views

Currently, the only company offering technology that can be upgraded is Unitron, a sister company to Phonak (both are owned by Sonova) which has technology that parallels them for the most part (about 95% of Phonak technology is available in Unitron products, and vice versa).  Other companies may offer upgradeable technology in the future, particularly if Unitron is successful with this program, which has been out for approximately three years.

The advancetage to the consumer of upgradeable technology is that they aren't stuck with the technology that they originally purchased should they want something better.  It is comparable to a computer that doesn't have enough memory but can be upgraded if necessary to run higher level programs.  How much technoloogy someone needs, in my opinion, largely depends on how socially active they are.  For someone who has a very quiet lifestyle--they spend most of their time at home, are rarely in background noise, etc.--entry level technology is not only adequate, it's probably more appropriate because they are then not spending money on features they likely don't need.  But someone who leads a very active social life needs the higher level technology to keep up with their higher communication demands.  Most people are in the middle.

For the consumer who doesn't know how much technology they need, they can be fit with what are known as "Flex:Trial" demonstration models to wear in their normal environments.  The instruments have a feature in them known as "Log It All" which analyzes how often you are in quiet, having conversations, in background noise, or listening to music and other auditory inputs in order to assess how socially active you are.  From there it can recommend a specific level of technology for you, which generally matches your perception of your social life.  It's just a nice way to verify you're getting exactly what you need.  Once this is determined, your audiologist then orders long-term instruments for you to use, programming them based on your experience with the Flex:Trial units.

BUT, if later on you determine you'd like a higher level technology, you don't need to invest into an all-new pair.  You can return to your audiologist who can upgrade them and you just pay the difference.  If you're not sure whether it's worth the cost, the audiologist can temporarily upgrade your instruments to try at the higher level for you to wear for a week or two, and then if you decide it's worth it, they can make the upgrade permanent (but they can't go backwards once it's permanent, so no refunds and it's best to try the temporary upgrade first because of this).  My experience has been that everyone who tries the temporary upgrade definitely notices the improvement, but not everyone thinks it's worth the cost to upgrade (or at least needs to wait until they can afford it).

This can be very empowering to a patient who is not sure how much technology they need, particularly for first-time users, which is why Unitron is my current lead product for about 80% of the patients I see, the other 20% needing a specialty product that Unitron (currently) doesn't offer.

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Nikki Degeorge Weaver, AuD

Doctor of Audiology in Newnan

14 November 2016 - 6.16K Views

Im sorry, but hearing aids, including Phonak are not upgradable.  The manufacturers create new technology rather than upgrading old.  The only upgradable hearing aid that I am aware of is a newer hearing aid from Unitron but I am not sure how far after you purchase it that it can be upgraded.  However, it is important to know why you feel like you need an upgrade.  All hearing aids can be adjusted to adapt to a changing hearing loss at least to some degree.  This is done by reprogramming to a new audiogram in our offices.  But, if you are needing more noise reduction or more bluetooth connectivity, then an upgrade to new technology may be the only thing to help.  

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Scot F
Scot F 18 March 2017
Unitron instruments are upgradeable within their current computer chip platform with no time limit. The patient is to be charged the different in the cost between product levels, so if they originally purchased a pair for $3,000 and want to upgrade to the next level costing $4,000, then they just pay the $1,000 price difference. Some offices may also charge a service fee for doing this, so sometimes it's less expensive to go with the higher level to begin with, but patients who aren't sure if they need the higher technology have the option to start lower and go higher if they decide they need it later, which is a brilliant selling point for Unitron products. What they can't do is upgrade to a completely different platform when it is introduce--only to higher levels within the same platform. Still, the technology is great even if you can't get access to some of the newest features when they come out, so when a patient needs better technology, they can upgrade within their platform, and then only have to worry about the wear-and-tear aspect when it comes to replacing with something new.

Jonell Block, AuD

Doctor of Audiology in Spokane Valley

14 November 2016 - 6.13K Views

It really depends on what you mean by “upgrade” and on how old your devices are.  At this point in time, Unitron Hearing is the only manufacturer that can or will actually upgrade your current devices to a higher level of technology.  It is called a “flex upgrade”.  You pay a fee that usually reflects the difference in cost of what you have now, to what technology level you wish to upgrade to.  With most other manufacturers, if your hearing aids are less than 90 days, the technology level can be upgraded.  But if older than that, it’s usually not possible.

If, by the term “upgrade”, you mean that your hearing aids are not performing as well as they use to and you wished they worked as well as they use to, and you REALLY loved them, then here are a couple suggestions.

  • If your hearing has worsened and the aids are not helping as much, then your provider (or any provider that works with Phonak) can
    • update your hearing test and update the hearing aid programming accordingly (as long as the actual style and model allows for more power)
    • If the current set-up does not have any extra power available, your audiologist can possibly change the receiver (speaker) strength and/or physical fit of the instruments, depending on style and model and whether your aids are still in warranty.
  • You may have some helpful features available on your current hearing aids which are not currently activated.  Have your audiologist assess what features you are now using, and what is available without having to purchase new aids, such as:
    • Add a volume control option or remote control
    • Activate an existing tinnitus feature
    • Add accessories to wireless hearing aids to help with special listening challenges such as the television, cell phone, computer, or one-on-one conversation in noise.
    • You might want to try additional programs to help solve problems with specific listening situations (i.e. TV, music, restaurants, lectures, riding in a car).  Personally I like as few program options as possible to keep things simple, but sometimes they really help. 

If you never really loved your hearing aids, if they were lower end technology, or if they are simply aging beyond current technology, it is good to know that there have been many wonderful advancements which are worth exploring in new instruments.  Maybe your audiologist is able to set up a demo for you to test.  If not, then remember that there is always a trial period with new hearing aids to be sure you find satisfaction and improved performance.

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Gene Woodard, PhD

Audiologist in Tulsa

14 November 2016 - 6.14K Views

my first question is what do you mean by "upgradable?"  All hearing aids can be reprogrammed.  RIC products can have the receiver replaced for more power.  This is a form of upgrade.  For instance, you've had your hearing aids for 2 to 3 years, you aren't hearing as well and an updated hearing loss indicates a change in hearing (worse).  If you are wearing a RIC product, the receiver can be replaced with stronger receiver and the hearing aid reprogrammed to match your changing hearing.  Most manufacturers anymore offer some types of software upgrades - changes in software within an operating system that makes the hearing aid more efficient, etc., similar to upgrades in the software on your home PC or laptop.  HOWEVER, no manufacturer will replace the current chip or operating system on a hearing aid anymore than your auto manufacturer will replace the engine on your car just because there is a newer model available.  In the digital world, technology changes fairly quickly - as you can see when new smart phones are released annually.  If your hearing aids are several years old - you will have to purchase new hearing aids in order to be able to take advantage of the newer technologies.

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Julie Norin, AuD

Doctor of Audiology in Baltimore

14 November 2016 - 6.14K Views

Phonak hearing aids are not capable of being upgraded to a higher level of technology without the consumer purchasing a new pair of hearing aids; however, Phonak hearing aids can be "modified" to accommodate a change in hearing needs through reprogramming or switching a receiver wire out for one that is more powerful gain. This does not upgrade or change the model or technology level of a device, but it will allow for increases in gain (loudness) and more effective access to sound if hearing has decreased since the initial programming. Also, Phonak does allow for upgrading of "firmware" which is the software built into the hearing aids. When upgrading of firmware is done, it again, does not change the model or technology level of a hearing aid, but it updates the software within to worrk more effectively with newer versions of programming software (similar to the update of a smartphone). To my knowledge, there is only one manufacturer that has products on the market capable of being upgraded to a higher level of technology without the consumer having to purchase a new set of hearing aids, and that company is Unitron. 

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Alina Phoenix

Hearing Healthcare Provider in Champaign

14 November 2016 - 6.15K Views

It depends on what you mean by "Upgrade".  Many manufacturers can put in more powerful speakers to upgrade existing hearing aids if the problem is that there is not enough power for you. Some, like Starkey, do make certain software only based upgrades availble at low or no charge to existing hearing aids.  However, if you are looking for improvements in clarity/background noise management/new features, that would require purchasing of new hearing aids.  Check with your hearing care professional for a full evaluation to determine what options are available to you.

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Melissa Wikoff, AuD

Doctor of Audiology in Marietta

14 November 2016 - 6.16K Views

It depends on the manufacturer and model. Currently, you must purchase a new Phonak device to upgrade. Check with your audiologist to see if you would benefit from reprogramming and adjustments. Depending on the model of Phonak hearing aids you own, you may need to order to benefit from new features and advancements in technology. Good luck!

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Janice Powis, AuD

Hearing Healthcare Provider in Quincy

14 November 2016 - 6.16K Views

Hello. It may be that you might benefit from reprogramming (as opposed to new devices) if your hearing loss has changed. Most Audiologists offer reprogramming service, which would be significantly less expensive than new devices if yours are still relatively new. I know that some manufacturers (Unitron for example) do offer software upgrades, but I do not believe this is currently an option with Phonak.

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Member 01 May 2017
At what age do you suggest getting new hearing aids? Mine are 7+ years old and I sent them to phonak for repairs at a cost of almost $700 each because to their age. Repairs are necessary because the sounds fade out after a few minutes of wearing. Should I consider getting a new pair next time? Was I wrong to not get a new pair this time? Warranty will only be 6 months after the repairs, which concerns me.
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