I’m jumping past where a lot of articles start – I’m going to assume that you (or a loved one or friend) need at least 1 hearing aid, maybe 2.
I’m starting at the point where you are surfing the Internet or asking friends and coworkers where you should go to get it/them.
The average person probably is unaware of the differences in the people that could assist them in getting hearing aids. If your community is like mine, you will find large, even full-page newspaper ads about hearing aids. You can probably drive near shopping centers and see free-standing hearing aid businesses.
Hearing aids can be obtained through two types of individuals: audiologists and hearing aid dispensers (sometimes also referred to as licensed hearing aid dispensers).
Hearing aid dispensers are licensed to perform audiometric testing for the specific purpose of fitting and selling hearing aids. They must pass an exam to obtain a license. To qualify to take the exam some states require a high school diploma while others require some level of post high school education.
Audiologists are required to complete both graduate and doctorate level education, have a supervised externship and pass both national and state licensure exams. Their training and qualifications extend far past being about to perform audiometric testing for the specific purpose of fitting and selling hearing aids, although they do this as well.
My point of view about this topic is based upon 2 experiences. First, of course, is my own which is being chronicled on this site. The other is that of my grandmother who obtained her first and only of hearing aids somewhere around the age of 80.
There is no doubt that my grandmother had some hearing loss. She also had mild dementia. Her hearing loss was in the mild to moderate range, it wasn’t bothering her, but some of her children wanted her to be able to hear better. She went through a retail hearing aid dispenser for her hearing aids. I think it would be fair to say that she actually wore her hearing aids a few dozen times at most. Why? From what I noticed when I was around her, they didn’t necessarily fit all that well and she repeated complained about how noisy they were. I can attest to knowing exactly what she meant – hearing aids are noisy! I’m not sure how long her hearing loss had been present, but chances are it was quite a while and she was accustomed to living in a more quiet world. I get that! Hearing aids bring the noisy world to your ears while maybe not bringing the voices you’d really like to hear. She would only wear them when one of her children helped her put them on.
In my opinion, she was probably not a great hearing aid candidate. The communication challenges she had were probably driven more by her mild dementia rather than her hearing. It would have been interesting to know if an audiologist would have recommended she get hearing aids.
Here are a few of the things I have learned that have shaped my opinion about this topic and I hope will help you if you are in the process of deciding where to get hearing aids:
- Many people are attracted to the “free hearing test” offered by most hearing aid dispensers. Not all hearing tests are performed the same way. Some are not even performed in a sound proof booth. A thorough hearing assessment typically consists of testing pure tone thresholds (the softest levels you can hear at) using either headphones or inserted earphones and using bone conduction. Most of the time pure tone thresholds are also tested with artificial background noise in place as well. It should also include speech recognition thresholds (the softest level that you can understand simple words) and word recognition (the percent of words you can understand at a louder level).
- Older people who have been hard of hearing for a long time may not use their hearing aids much or end up not using them at all because of the noise they bring into their life. An evaluation of the impact their hearing loss is having on their life is in order to determine if they are a good candidate. Just like you, I’ve read the recent studies about how hearing loss can lead to memory loss, mental decline and possibly dementia. That’s why I suggest we all focus our energy on educating the public about getting their hearing tested as early as possible. There may not be much cost benefit or added quality of life for many older individuals.
- Hearing loss that exceeds the moderate level, in an individual that is actively seeking assistance with improving their hearing deserves the professional education and experience of an audiologist. Selecting the right hearing aid(s), having them professionally fitted including real ear measurements and custom ear molds, having them custom programmed, and suggesting necessary auditory rehabilitation are all critical to a successful experience and likely only available from an audiologist.
- As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you consider your hearing to be an asset, invest in it! The cheapest will not be the best and a thorough hearing evaluation is worth every penny. The Internet is full of research about the average cost of hearing aids. No, they are not cheap and no, most insurance doesn’t cover them. Nonetheless, if you are seriously committed to improving your hearing, put money in your flexible spending account, use your health savings account money, or consider one of the financing plans that may be available.
As with many things in life, educate yourself first so that you are not totally dependent on what someone tells you. You must be prepared to be your own advocate to ensure that your needs are met!