Why Not Buy a Hearing Aid Off the Shelf?
In 2009 when Consumer.org in the US set out to test hearing aids, they encountered the same challenges that hearing-aid shoppers face every day: a fragmented and confusing marketplace and difficulty sorting out good hearing-aid providers from less-capable ones. These comments apply just as much to the New Zealand market.
In their survey 67 percent of first-time aid users sought aids because they got tired of asking others to repeat themselves. Once you've accepted your hearing loss and are considering getting hearing aids, your most consequential decision is finding the proper professional from whom to buy them because it's likely to be a long-term relationship. This is not a project for the faint-hearted
Digital hearing aids, which have captured more than 90 percent of the market, come in five major types. In these aids, sound goes in the microphone and is digitally processed by a very sophisticated tiny computer, amplified, and delivered into the ear. These aids also have features to modify that sound, making it more lifelike and correcting for other problems. Because an individuals' sound perception is so personal, a hearing aid that thrills one person might seem just so-so to another with almost identical hearing-test results. Within brands, there are many different versions of a model. That kind of variation makes judging hearing-aid models and brands almost impossible.
"There are differences between brands, but they're not significant enough that you can say what are the best brands," says Todd Ricketts, Ph.D., associate professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University.
An Audiologist is only as good as her evaluations—how she determines your hearing loss and verifies that the prescribed aids work. During your first visit, the Audiologist will establish your hearing-loss profile with audiometric testing. You'll sit in a soundproof booth or room and indicate whether you can hear individual words piped into your headphone, as well as tones played at various pitches and volumes. A graph, called an audiogram, displays which parts of the sound spectrum you're having difficulty hearing so that the provider can choose and calibrate your aid properly. A full Hearing Assessment includes several other hearing tests, too; you might be asked to listen to speech while a noisy recording plays. You might be asked to repeat words the Audiologist says, with and without being able to see her lips move. You might answer questions about how your hearing difficulty affects your everyday life. You should also discuss your needs and lifestyle. Do you like to chat on the phone? Does your social life involve a lot of large gatherings, meetings or café and restaurant meals? The Audiologist should then show you a few models and together you will choose one. If your chosen style includes an earmold, she'll make an impression of your ear canal. You might have to pay a deposit. When you return to pick up your aids, usually in a week or two, the Audiologist will fit them do several hearing tests to verify that they are working optimally. Of those tests, one stands out as a must-have: the real-ear test, which measures the match between your hearing loss and the response of your hearing aid.
Putting on new hearing aids is nothing like putting on new eyeglasses and being able to see clearly right away. "I thought that everything seemed too loud," one new user said. "The Audiologist said it takes time for my brain to get used to processing things I have not heard for a long time." Follow-up appointments are strongly recommended and most Audiologists include that service in their initial fee. Adjustments for a hearing-aid fitting might include changing the device's electronic settings, reworking an uncomfortable earmold, or getting a completely different hearing aid. Practice everyday activities using the aids. "A hearing aid is not just an electronic device," says Brenda Battat, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America, a support and advocacy group. "It's part of a whole rehabilitative treatment."