Common sense and a commitment to taking charge of your own hearing health are the first things you’ll need when you set out to buy a hearing aid. An investment in a good hearing aid is really an investment in your health, so spend whatever time and money you can afford to get the solution that works best for you.
And plan on investing some real time on your research. If you ask the right questions and give yourself time to shop around, you will find the best solution out there for you at the best price.
Beyond those initial bits of advice, here are steps to take that will move you along the path to better hearing.
Acknowledge That You Need Some Help
If you really haven’t accepted the fact that you are having trouble hearing and are only shopping for some hearing assistance to placate your spouse or your children, you will probably not solve your problem. The first step is to take an honest look at how much trouble you are having and make a decision to take control of your own hearing health and proactively get whatever help you may need.
Find a Good Audiologist or Licensed Hearing Aid Dispenser
A good audiologist or hearing aid dispenser will do a thorough hearing exam, determine how much amplification you need, fit you with custom-programmed hearing aids and work with you until you are happy with them. Note: Your provider should refer you to an otolaryngologist if you exhibit any medical red-flags indicating ear-related diseases.
To find a high-quality hearing health professional, go to Hearing Tracker’s Find a Hearing Provider page or our Find a Hearing Aid Clinic map, enter your zip code, and start researching providers near you. Make sure to check on the credentials of the hearing professional you visit. An audiologist has an advanced degree in hearing health management and a hearing aid dispenser should have a certificate from the state showing they have completed the requisite training to test for hearing loss, fit hearing aids, and deliver other hearing health care services. Providers who have registered with Hearing Tracker are noted with a blue marker on the map and have professional profiles giving information on their credentials and capabilities.
Hearing Tracker members often post reviews of their experiences with hearing providers. After you visit a hearing professional, we hope you will join Hearing Tracker, too (membership is free) and submit a review about your experience.
Get an Accurate Assessment of the Kind of Amplification You Need
The hearing professional will test your hearing and map the frequencies where you need amplification with an audiogram. The most typical form of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss, where your inner ear and hearing nerves gradually lose their ability to discern sounds, most often starting with the higher frequencies. This kind of hearing loss is often progressive, getting worse with age, and irreversible. The good news, though, is that for mild or moderate hearing loss (which is the vast majority of cases), properly fitted hearing aids can be very effective.
Familiarize Yourself with Hearing Aid Options
There are hundreds of brands and models of hearing aids providing the entire range of amplification for hearing loss ranging from very mild to severe-to-profound. Even before visiting an audiologist or dispenser, it’s helpful to explore Hearing Tracker’s Hearing Aid Review Directory, which provides a large catalogue of major manufacturers’ hearing aids along with detailed descriptions and specs. Hearing Tracker’s subscribers have reviewed many of the hearing aids listed in the directory, but due to individual differences between hearing aid users and the varying skill level of providers, we recommend reading hearing aid reviews with caution.
Choose a Product
When it comes to choosing a hearing aid, our advice is to find a good provider you can trust and follow their recommendations. A good provider will present you with a range of solutions, possibly including hearing aids, and possibly including other hearing assistance technologies (HAT) (see below). Hearing aid options may include in-the-ear (ITE), behind-the-ear (BTE), receiver-in-the-ear (RITE, also known as receiver-in-canal or RIC), and “invisible” in the canal (IIC), among others. Ideally you will get a choice not only of multiple models and styles but also several brands. Your hearing provider should be able to discuss the pros and cons of each style given your hearing loss and other individual factors (like your ear size). Don’t be afraid to ask to try different styles and models until you’re satisfied you’ve found the one that suits you best.
Follow Up, Follow Through
Make sure there is at least a 30-day return policy if you aren’t satisfied with the hearing aids. Also, ask how many follow-up visits come with the purchase — often multiple programming tweaks make all the difference in getting a fit that works for you. Most audiologists and hearing aid specialists include programming and follow-up service as part of a single bundled price for the purchase of hearing aids, but some “unbundle”, charging separately for professional services vs. products. Just make sure you know what the total cost will be. And then take advantage of the follow-up visits. You’ll be glad you did when a slight programming change leads to major improvement in your hearing.
Consider Financing Options
Hearing aids can be terribly expensive, often costing thousands of dollars a pair. So be sure to ask your provider about financing options. Many hearing professionals are able to offer extended payment terms at rates well below financing with credit card debt. Keeping your monthly payments within your budget and paying off the hearing aids over a two- or three-year period might make the difference between an affordable purchase today versus one you put off.
Ask About Hearing Assistance Technology (HAT)
Most hearing aid manufacturers now are providing additional products to make hearing easier in different situations, including Bluetooth streaming of your spouse’s voice, your cellphone signal, and even your TV audio directly into your hearing aids. There are also plenty of services to improve your landline telephone signal. Manufacturers’ accessories are proprietary meaning that they will work with only the make and model of hearing aids that you use. However, there are also generic HAT devices that can be used with and make and model of hearing aid, provided it contains a a small sensor called a telecoil. These generic HAT devices have the advantage of being less expensive than the proprietary accessories. Ask about these products — they can greatly enhance the success you have with your hearing aids. Finally, if you cannot hear various sounds around your home or office without your hearing aids, then make sure that your provider talks to you about alerting devices. These devices use an enhanced auditory signal, flashing lights or vibration to alert you to the doorbell, the smoke alarm, and other important signals that keep you safe and independent.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
If your hearing loss is age related, you can expect some ongoing decline. So, just as you should get your eyes checked regularly for a new prescription for your glasses or contact lenses, you should get your hearing tested on a regular basis and have your hearing aids reprogrammed if you need more amplification. And, because hearing-aid technology has been progressing along with all other digital technologies, it’s helpful to stay up on the new products that are coming out every year. Don’t be surprised if your first pair of hearing aids start to seem outdated after a couple of years once you see new features coming out from the major manufacturers. If you’re the type of person who leases your car and gets a new model every three years, you’ll be happy to know hearing aid manufacturers come up with some nice new designs with new bells and whistles every two or three years as well.
Finally, keep in front of your mind the phrase “caveat emptor” – Latin for “buyer beware,” and take the time to do your research and shop around. It’s very easy to be hurried into making a bad decision.
About David Copithorne
David has been blogging about hearing issues for a long time. As someone who has progressed from mild to profound hearing loss, he has had a chance to experience almost everything that the hearing industry has to offer. He currently utilizes cochlear implants in both ears. Read more of David’s musings at the Hearing Mojo blog.
Last modified: June 23, 2016