Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition among older Americans, affecting more than 48 million people. Yet more than 85 percent of people who could benefit from using a hearing aid do not actually use them, often because of cost or lack of access to a hearing health professional.
This has serious consequences. Hearing loss can affect a person’s ability to stay connected to friends and family, contributing to social isolation, lower earnings and higher risk of falls, according to the National Institute of Health and various published studies.
Before purchasing a hearing aid, there are many important factors to consider. Here are five tips when evaluating hearing aids:
1. Look for these key features:
- Custom-programming—the sound processor inside the hearing aid is programmed to your hearing test results.
- Automatic gain control allows you to hear soft sounds while keeping loud noises at a comfortable level.
- Directional processing enhances the sounds in front of you while reducing distracting background noise beside and behind you.
- Feedback manager allows for greater amplification while minimizing whistling.
- Noise reduction improves listening comfort and speech intelligibility by reducing distracting environmental noise such as fans or motors.
- Telecoil connects to telephones, hearing loops, neck loops and wireless systems.
2. Have reasonable expectations. Hearing aids can't completely restore normal hearing or eliminate all background noise, but they can improve the quality of life for users by amplifying soft sounds and reducing loud background noises. If you are new to hearing aids, it can take a few weeks before you are completely comfortable with them. Be patient as you adjust to hearing sounds you may not have heard in a long time.
3. Evaluate new options. Some new companies are changing the way hearing aids are sold, helping to bring down costs. By unbundling the price of the device from additional, often unneeded services, people are able to purchase high-quality, custom-programmed hearing aids for less than $1,000 per device—a savings of 60 percent or more compared to devices sold through traditional channels. As technology has improved, fewer visits are needed because the programming has become more precise.
4. Consider other hearing products. In conjunction with hearing aids, there are assistive listening devices that can remove distracting background noise and, effectively, bring the relevant sound closer to the user. Devices such as neck loops, wireless systems or loops that can be installed in rooms help transmit sounds directly to people wearing hearing aids, greatly improving the sound quality and clarity, especially when listening at a distance.
5. Check with your insurance plan. Some insurance plans, including employer-sponsored and Medicare Advantage plans, now cover some or all of the cost of hearing aids, helping to make treatment and support more affordable. Find out what coverage is available to you.
By following the above tips, you can make more informed decisions about improving their hearing, relationships and quality of life.