Selecting a Provider
We’ll get the easiest advice out of the way first: If you are a veteran, your first step should be to determine whether you are eligible to get your aids at your nearest Veterans Affairs facility. For everyone else, our suggested choice is a medical office headed by an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat physician) to rule out medical conditions such as a tumor or bacterial infection in the ear that might be affecting your hearing. He can also clear your ears of wax so that you’re ready for your hearing test. Visit our affiliate office to be seen by the best ENTs in the SouthBay.
One out of five hearing aid users purchase their hearing aids from a doctor’s office. They rate those providers higher on their thoroughness in evaluating hearing loss than did respondents who went to other types of retail providers–or hearing instrument specialists.
Both types of professionals can evaluate your hearing and fit your hearing aids. But their training varies significantly. Newly-minted audiologists must have a doctoral degree (generally the Au.D.), pass national and sometimes state tests, and have more than 1,000 hours of clinical training. Hearing-aid specialists generally have from six months to two years of supervised training and in most states must pass licensing tests.
Understand the Product
Digital hearing aids, which have captured more than 90 percent of the market, come in five major types. In those aids, sound goes in the microphone and is digitally processed by a chip, amplified, and delivered into the ear. Those aids also have features to modify that sound, making it more lifelike and correcting for other problems.
Because individuals’ sound perception is, well, so individual, a hearing aid that thrills one person might seem just so-so to another with almost identical hearing-test results. Even within brands, there might be several 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.
The more features you buy, the more you’ll probably pay, but you might not need every one. Even with features appropriate for you, you might need to temper your expectations. In crowds, for instance, your aids will never completely eliminate jarring background noise. “It’s going to bring people back to hearing, but because of the way we process sound, it’s not going to bring them back to normal hearing,” says audiologist Patricia Chute, dean of the School of Health and Natural Sciences at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Get a Thorough Evaluation
A hearing-aid provider 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 provider will establish your hearing-loss profile with audiometry testing. You’ll sit in a soundproof booth 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 calibrate your aid properly.
A good evaluation includes several other tests, too; you might be asked to listen to speech while a noisy recording plays. You might be asked to repeat words the tester 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 or restaurant meals?
The provider should then show you a few models and ask you to choose. If your chosen style includes an earmold, she’ll make an impression of your ear canal. You might have to pay a deposit.
Be a Smart Buyer
Make sure you clearly understand the terms: extra visits, length of warranty, the cost to replace a lost or damaged aid, the cost of batteries, the length of the trial period during which you can exchange or return your aids, and the return fee, if any.
Consider your future needs; ask whether the chosen hearing aid has enough residual amplification to handle a hearing loss that gets worse.
Before you leave with your new aids, practice inserting and removing the battery, cleaning and storing the aid, putting it into your ear, using its switches and controls, and using the telephone while wearing it.
Practice and Follow Up
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,” a patient said. “The audiologist said it takes time for my brain to get used to processing things I have not heard for a long time.”
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.”
Where to Go
Veterans, try the VA. Others, first consider a medical hearing practice that also dispenses hearing aids.
What to Expect from the Provider
Proper certification. A choice of several brands, styles, and features. Convenient hours. Walk-in repairs. Soundproof booth and several types of hearing tests. Flexible trial period. Money-back guarantee.
At the First Visit
Discuss your activities and needs. Focus on features, not brand. Ask about telecoil, directional mic, and feedback suppression. Ask for residual amplification.
At the Fitting Visit
Practice talking on the phone and other activities. Review the product manual, warranty, trial period, and returna and repair policies.
Practice using the hearing aids in different environments. If not satisfied, don’t just leave them in a drawer. Return at least once for a follow-up check, and go back as often as needed thereafter.
I’m Researching for Myself
Living with hearing loss can be a frustrating experience for both you and your loved ones. The first step towards reclaiming your hearing and quality of life is an evaluation with a practitioner who specializes in hearing care. A comprehensive hearing evaluation will help guide you towards solutions that are comfortable, effective, and lasting.
I’m Researching for a Family Member
For loved ones of those living with hearing loss, the effects can be closely felt. Family members and those closest to individuals experiencing hearing loss are frequently the driving force behind a patient’s first hearing evaluation, and can help to make all the difference in their quality of life and overall wellbeing. Depending on the type and severity of hearing loss, restoration or improvement of hearing can be possible, and many different solutions exist for individuals of all lifestyles.
I’m Ready to Purchase
If you’re ready to take the next steps towards improving your hearing and quality of life, purchasing hearing aids is an investment in your overall well-being and happiness. Depending on individual need and preferences, hearing aids can range anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 per unit. With recommended follow-up and necessary adjustments, hearing aids can be fitted perfectly to each individual by a hearing specialist and provide solutions that are comfortable and effective.
Schedule an Appointment
To schedule an appointment at any of our four locations throughout the greater Los Angeles region, we offer convenient booking online or by phone for both new consultations and existing patients. Book online or give us a call today.