Beyond the High Technology ‘Hype’ for Hearing aids

When it comes to the subject of hearing aids, there are countless sources and opinions on which type and brand is the best, as well as a lot of discussion about the different levels of technology. Whether it comes from the internet, hearing aid clinics, or family and friends, there seems to be an overwhelming amount to process; you the potential new hearing aid wearer, still no further ahead.

So who, or what, to believe.

Although each opinion may be relevant for their situation, it does not necessarily mean that it applies to yours. The best way to sort through what is and what is not applicable is to consult with a hearing clinic, but ask questions, lots of questions. Find out why a particular type is being recommended over another, but beware of those who straight away start pushing for the ‘latest and highest technology’ without understanding your distinct, yet interconnected needs: degree of hearing loss and other physically restrictive issues; finances; and most importantly, lifestyle. A person wears hearing aids, not ears. Getting hearing aid recommendations from anyone without having first determined what your needs are, namely work, social and leisure time activities, should be taken with a degree of skepticism. Understanding the needs of the wearer has a considerable effect on choosing which technology level and style of hearing aids are the most appropriate. What may prove to be ‘manna from heaven’ for one person, may be a poor choice for another.

Get past the hype!

Deciding on a hearing aid because it has ‘the highest level of technology’ is costly, and may not necessarily improve your hearing to any notable degree; often running counter to many advertising campaigns which often insist that the highest technology should be sought out to ensure good hearing.

The following three points are key when choosing hearing aids:

  1. People wear hearing aids, not ears: the level of technology should suit your workplace, family and social interactions, alongside any restrictive health and financial considerations. ‘Fancy-shmancy’ is a waste, if not utilized.
  2. The hearing loss: the basics of appropriate hearing aid power requirements and other customizing points, based upon the amount of hearing loss, etc., will place limitations on certain types of hearing aids.
  3. The relationship you have with the clinic: Setting up hearing aids requires a meeting of the minds, as it is important for both the patient and clinician to understand the needs of the other. The clinician’s expertize should ensure that the hearing loss is minimized as much as possible and to guide the fitting to the best possible end. The wearers’ role is to help guide the clinician to ensure a ‘natural’ sound and physical comfort. It is similar to choosing prescription eyewear, whereby the optometrist understands the physiology of the eye and the lens requirements, but the patient chooses the frame based upon what they feel is most presentable.

And now about that technology…

Changes within the hearing aid industry are continuous, with small refinements on existing technology coming out on a regular basis, coupled with notable leaps every few years. Situations which the hearing industry struggled to overcome, perhaps only a few years ago, are often now quite well-managed. It is very important to note that the amount of hearing loss will place some limits on how much can be restored. In most cases, hearing aids are prescribed to overcome the damage to the nerves, which supply the sound to the brain, but with as the loss increases, there are fewer and fewer receptors to take the sound from the hearing aid and ear to the brain. Much like retinal disease, glasses cannot replace what has been lost in the eye, rather only maximize the usable portion.

Digital hearing aids entered the marketplace in the late 1990’s, but, quite frankly, were not much better than a good analogue hearing aid, at the time. Compared to those early days, today’s hearing aids are capable of so much more, especially in noisy situations, with the right choice.

Unfortunately, what tends to confuse the situation is marketing claims about the “most advanced hearing EVER”, which seems to occur weekly. Often those ‘advances’ are the subtle refinements which are not really worth that (exaggerated) hype.

Understanding technology levels. There are basically four levels of technology in hearing aids, which are often referred to as basic, standard, advanced and premium. Those levels have nothing to do with the quality of the manufacturing, rather only their ability to process sound. The higher the level, the greater ability they have to separate speech from noise, control common background noise and make better use of directionality.

It is important to understand that all levels work well in quieter situations, but as noise levels increase in multi-talker environments, such as restaurants, the higher levels of technology are better able to preserve speech. For many people, the two mid-levels are an appropriate choice for most commonly encountered situations.

So what should you expect from hearing aids?

This all important question should not be based upon the experiences of others, as it can only be answered on a case-by-case basis. A realistic expectation, however, is that in most instances you should be able to hear and understand in most situations which you frequently encounter…if an appropriate hearing aid has been chosen programmed accordingly.

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