BUYING A HEARING AID

by Laine Waggoner, MA, MS 

 

Become an educated consumer and an active participant in your own hearing rehabilitation - because this is one of the most important buying decisions you will ever make.

BEFORE YOU BUY A HEARING AID:

  1. HAVE A MEDICAL EVALUATION, ideally, by an M.D. specialist in diseases of the ear: an otologist, otolaryngologist or ENT doctor. 

GOAL:  To learn the cause of your loss, what kind it is, how severe it is. Is it operable? Is it permanent? Is it progressive?

Possible causes of hearing loss: age, heredity, a buildup of earwax, infections, tumors, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, exposure to noise and metabolic disorders such as high cholesterol levels.

  1.   HAVE A HEARING (AUDIOLOGICAL) EVALUATION:

 GOAL: to find the best hearing aid for your particular loss.

  • A hearing exam determines if there is a hearing impairment, how severe it is and what treatment is necessary. It should tell you, based upon your special needs and lifestyle, how your unique hearing loss will affect your communication ability.

  • It should be administered by either a state licensed audiologist with at least a master’s degree or a hearing instrument specialist who has been practicing for a number of years.

  • Get a copy of your audiogram and a clear explanation of the results. The more you understand your unique hearing loss, the better you will be able to make decisions based on the facts.

  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions. There are no dumb questions.  

BUYING AN AID:

  • The best insurance for optimal hearing aid usage is for you to have excellent rapport: a partnership relationship-  with your hearing aid dispenser. Each hearing loss is unique. You cannot compare yourself with another person’s success or failure at using hearing aids.

  • No hearing aid can restore hearing or give you “perfect hearing” the way eye glasses can correct poor vision.

  • No hearing aid, by itself, completely screens out background noise.

  • Hearing aids must be used with assistive devices to understand speech in noisy situations and at a distance. For such purposes, you must buy a hearing aid with a T-switch (telephone coil). Or, you can remove your hearing aids and use the device with headphones or ear buds. The latter can be adapted to fit comfortably in your ear canal.

  • The goal is improving your overall communication ability by combining hearing, active listening, attention, concentration and visual cues along with membership in a support group of other people with hearing loss.

  • The ideal is to use two hearing aids for better understanding in noise, better hearing balance and better communication with your brain.

     Remember: it’s your pocketbook and your decision.

Who are the Hearing Health Care Professionals?

Clinical audiologists have a master’s degree in audiology which trains them to diagnose pathology of the ear, dispense hearing aids and provide advance rehabilitation. They should be state licensed and have a CCC- Certificate of Clinical Competence from the ASHA- American Speech, Language and Hearing Association. Many also belong to the ADA- American Academy of Dispensing Audiologists.

Hearing Instrument Specialists (hearing aid dispensers) should be state licensed and members of the IHS- International Hearing Society and have BC- Board Certification status.

BEFORE YOU BUY:

  • Read up on the pros and cons of the various types of hearing aids on the market.

  • Determine your budget. Hearing aids can range from $500 to $5,000.

  • A dispenser should be able to provide hearing aids in differing price ranges. You may not need a “top-of-the-line” aid. Remember, usually, the smaller the aid, the higher the cost.

  • Never buy via mail order or from someone who sells only one brand.

QUALITIES OF A GOOD DISPENSER:

  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills. 

  • Listens carefully, focuses on your needs and builds a sense of trust.

  • Is empathetic, courteous, patient and appreciates your feelings.

  • Considers your budget and lifestyle.

  • Demonstrates competence in hearing aid selection, fitting, adapting.

  • Stays up-to-date on the newest advances in hearing aids and fitting.

  • Delivers well-fitted ear molds.

  • Has lengthy experience or if inexperienced, is under the close supervision of an experienced fitter.

PROFESSIONAL ETHICS

  • Adheres to ethical standards and behavior.

  • Only recommends aids which will benefit you.

  • Does not use “hard sell” techniques.

  • Avoids misleading advertising that claims to: restore hearing to normal, prevent the progression of hearing loss or eliminate all background noise.

  • In California, provides at least a 30-day trial period.

  • Provides a written sales contract and basic facts about hearing aid use.

  EQUIPMENT & TESTING

  • Has up-to-date testing and diagnostic equipment.

  • Performs audiological screening in a sound-proof  room.

  • Explains the test results fully.

  • Gives you a copy of your audiogram, even if the test is free.

  • Keeps accurate records of testings and service.

SELECTION GUIDANCE

  • Has a variety of hearing aids on hand for your evaluation.

  • Explains the differences in the performance of the different hearing aid types: behind the ear, in the ear, in the canal, etc.

  • Explains the pros of cons of the various types re: suitability for your hearing loss, ease of handling, comfort.

  • Explains the many options beyond a basic hearing aid, such as direct audio input, bi-cross hearing aids, specialized ear molds and hearing aid, T-switches (or Tele-coils, essential for use with group/assistive FM and infrared hearing assistive devices-HADs). Explains how you may benefit from amplified telephones and captioned TV and videotapes.

PROVIDES Pre-Fitting EDUCATION & Post-Fitting REHABILITATION

  •   Provides the medical waiver form you must sign if you have not been previously seen by an otologist or other medical specialist.

  • Describes how hearing aids work.

  • Before you order an aid: explains realistic in-use expectations. 

  • Gives you a hearing aid manual.

  • Provides a written program for a new user to “break in” an aid.

  • Trains you how to: 

    • put on and take off the aid, turn it on, set & adjust volume,

    • care for aid and ear mold, change batteries, do simple trouble-shooting, be alert to problems such as feedback, loss of power, etc.

    • use the phone, practice with the T-switch, listen to radio/TV.

  • Counsels family members about the adjustment period.

  • Provides periodic follow-up: weekly consultations for first-time users.

  • Is willing to work with you until a satisfactory fit is achieved.

  • Schedules routine hearing aid check-ups (tune-ups) and cleaning.

  • Provides or refers you for aural rehabilitation in adjusting.

  • Explains complaint procedures if you are not satisfied.

FAIR PRICING & GOOD SERVICE POLICIES

  • Clearly explains all costs: basic price plus any service charges, consultations, repairs, tubing replacement, ear molds.

  • Provides a written sales contract which includes the itemized price, manufacturer’s name, model &  serial numbers, color,  date manufactured, length of trial period (minimum 30 days required by state law, some dispensers offer 60 days), dispenser’s name, state registration number and its expiration date, warranty terms, a clear guarantee that the aid is new, or, if used, it is sold at discount.

  • Gives you a copy of the graph of the manufacturer’s hearing aid response data on the aid delivered to you.

  • Explains insurance policy options or refers to an insurance carrier.

  • Explains what happens when an aid malfunctions: time to repair, typical costs, availability of “loaner” aids.

  • Provides continuous support: adjustments as needed, simple repairs, returns aid to factory for major repairs, battery sales, ear mold remakes, and routine servicing about twice a year.

TYPES OF HEARING AIDS: Read Hearing Aid Types and Styles article.

WHAT ABOUT DIGITAL HEARING AIDS?

  • Not all digital aids use the same speech processing strategies.

  • They do have the potential to improve overall speech perception. But users have varied results with them, and newer technology is developed daily.

  • Digitals may help you hear somewhat better in noise than the more traditional hearing aids.

  • If you are new to hearing aid use, you might want to try a less expensive aid first.

REMEMBER:  

California law requires a minimum 30 day trial of a new hearing aid. Try to negotiate a 45-60 day trial period before concluding the sale.

 

REFERENCES:

Carmen, Richard, Ed.. . Hearing Loss & Hearing Aids: A Bridge to Healing. 1998, Sedona, AZ., Auricle Ink Publishers..

Clickener, Patricia, Consumer’s Guide for Purchasing a Hearing Aid. SHHH Journal, May/June 1991. Prepared with the SHHH Professional Advisory Board and individual members.

Flexer, C.; Flexer, R., Wray, D.; Leavitt, R., Eds.. How the Student with Hearing Loss Can Succeed in College. 1996. Washington, DC, Alexander Graham Bell Assn. for the Deaf.

Ross, Mark. Digital Hearing Aids: another update. Hearing Loss Journal (SHHH). July/August 1998.


Laine Waggoner is the Director of HEAR (Hearing-loss Education And Relationships), which conducts support groups, facilitates seminars, and provides private coaching for individuals who are experiencing hearing loss.  Email: LaineWaggoner@dc.rr.com


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