People often ask my advice on hearing aids. I’ve been wearing hearing aids for about 25 years now, starting with the old, awful analog ones and moved into the digital models. I’m on my fifth pair of hearing aids. I also help teach a class at work called Hearing Aids 101 so I have some knowledge and experience. Here’s a lot of what I saw but it by no means covers it all.
Make sure you get a tele-coil (t-coil) in your hearing aids. Audiologists like to say it’s old technology and you’ll never use it but it’s NOT outdated technology. A t-coil (originally developed for the telephone but it’s uses have grown) is a tiny coil of copper wire in a hearing aid. Most hearing aids have them but audiologists don’t always tell people about it. If you already have hearing aids you may have one but the program is not turned on. Ask your audiologist if you have one and if it can be turned on to experiment with.
I used my t-coil setting a lot in the early years with my analog hearing aids to get by on the phone and I don’t think I would have lasted so long the phone without it. I held the top of the phone a little above and behind my ear hovering the edge of my hearing aid. It cut out my environmental background noise and focuses on what’s coming across on the phone only. Unfortunately my environmental noise would bleed over into the phone at times because I worked in salons which could get noisy but even then the t-coil helped a great deal on the phone.
These days I don’t use the phone much but when I do I use neckloop which also works with the t-coil. It has a jack that will fit into anything headphones can plug into. I use it with my iPhone and I hear the conversation in both my ears which gives me a little extra to work with in trying to understand the conversation. I also use it on my iPod to listen to music and I take it to venues who advertise ALDs to plug into their receivers since they usually only offer headphones. Headphones over the top of hearing aids will not work as well as a neckloop. I have this neckloop because it has a mic to use with my phone. I don’t know if this is the ‘best’ brand, it’s what I bought first and use.
And then there’s the hearing loop that also works with the t-coil program. It’s all over Europe and is just starting to make headway in the USA. Basically if I walk into a looped room and turn on my t-coil program I can hear 90% of the conversation and I DON’T have to pick up any other devices to make it work. My word discrimination is 50-70% (or worse) with hearing aids depending on the environment.) I’m not sure why this assistive listening system works so much better than the usual FM and infrareds but it is a huge difference. It’s my preferred listening system. If you want to learn more about hearing loops I suggest going here. http://www.foxvalleyhearingloop.com/ Juliette Sterkens who is HLAA’s officially hearing loop advocate helped set up this site and she can say it a lot better than I can. Hearing loops are also available for cars, living rooms (for the TV) and simple counter loops for a small area.
Bluetooth technology. Audiologists are big on this and it’s great for personal devices, I like listening to my music with it best. My current hearing aids came with a Bluetooth necklace which hooks me up to my phone and other devices once it’s paired (and pairing isn’t always easy). I have a streamer for my TV and I can hear more words however I still require captions to fill in the blanks. Bluetooth however draws on a lot of battery power and the more you use it the faster you will go through hearing aid batteries. (T-coils require no extra battery power.) You can’t use Bluetooth in big venues yet so it’s mainly for personal devices. With hearing aids, you can have both Bluetooth and a t-coil, why not have the best of both worlds? Ask your audiologist to make sure your new hearing aids have t-coil as well. People who go with Bluetooth only and regret not having t-coils later. Hearing loops are not in wide use yet but when it’s available, it’s awesome. The hearing loop movement is growing.
Hearing Aid Brands
I get asked about the top brands all the time. The most used hearing aids are: Widex, Phonak, Siemens, Starkey and Oticon. There are several other brands out there but I have little personal experience with them. CostCo sells hearing aids cheaper and they are Phonak or Siemens but the model’s have different names. They might not have all the bells and whistles the higher priced versions do but you’ll pay up to $3,000 less at CostCo. The main problem I hear about them is that the hearing instrument specialists come and go fairly fast. People will get one who can program well and that person will leave and be replaced by someone who is so-so at programming. Here’s a good website to compare brands of all kinds and read reviews from people who wear them. http://www.complete-hearing-aid-reviews.com/
Do Not Give Up Until Satisfied
You’re the boss. You paid for the hearing aids and you paid good money. You paid in advance for all the tweaking of programs and minor upkeep of hearing aids. It’s called a bundle package which pays for the hearing aids, the services and minor repairs so keep going back until they get the programming right, until you are satisfied with them. Hearing aids will never replace true hearing but you should be able to wear them and notice a difference. Without my hearing aids in I have a 30% word discrimination at best. I went back with this last pair I bought twice a month for 6 months until I was satisfied and eventually wound up with a 72% word discrimination test, the highest I’ve had in years. The audiologist should make you feel comfortable to come as often as needed.
You can ask if they have unbundled deal. (Most audiologists do not offer this.) This option allows you to pay for the hearing aids alone and then pay a service fee each time you go in. For some people, this is the cheaper way to go but it is nice to go back as often as necessary without the worry of running up a bill.
Haggle over the price of hearing aids, strike a bargain. They should never ever be above $6,000 in my opinion but I know some pay $7,000. The prices aren’t set in stone and you may be able to bargain it lower. Shop around and compare, bring the best price quote back to the audiologist you like and see if he/she will work with you. Most audiologists want to make that sale but most of the time we are clueless and don’t question the price.
Hearing Aid Programs
There are several programs you can have in your hearing aids. I have 5 programs, 3 I use often and 2 I use here and there. The number 1 setting is the main setting or the master program. Next I also have a program for noisy settings which focus my microphones extreme forward and drops the noise a few levels so I can tolerate noise better. The other one I use often is the ‘stroll’ program (I have Siemens hearing aids right now and different companies have different names for the programs.) It’s set up for walking next to someone and the microphones go from side to side as needed following voices. I use this program mainly in the car and it helped a great deal.
I have a dedicated Bluetooth program which I rarely use but it’s there when I want it. I also have a dedicated T-coil program which I use for the phone, neckloop and meetings in town with a hearing loop. There are other programs that offered, ask your audiologist to read off what’s available and then experiment with them. I might replace my Bluetooth program (I rarely use it) with the Zen program for tinnitus to see what it’s like.
Warranties and Batteries
You should get a 2-3 year warranty on the hearing aids. Some audiologists might offer free batteries for that amount of time with the purchase of new hearing aids. If your audiologist doesn’t offer, ask. Tell him/her that you heard of someone who does and see if they will make you a deal.
You should have 30-90 days to return the hearing aids for your money back (aside from ear mold prices). If you really don’t like them don’t be afraid to return them and try another brand.
Smaller hearing aids may appeal to vanity but you won’t get all the cool programming options. They also don’t last as long and go through more batteries than the bigger ones.
All Audiologists Should Tell You About Assistive Technology
Ask your audiologist about assistive listening technology and how it can complement your hearing aids. Hearing aids are made for conversation within a 4-6 foot range, after that, their ability diminishes which is why you can’t hear well in church, the theater or at lectures. Assistive listening devices that use FM or infrared technology will eliminate the distance and help you hear a lot better in public venues. Look for the sign above when you are going out and inquire about the devices available. It will create a much better experience for you.
Make sure your ear molds are snug but don’t hurt. If they are a poor fit things will sound more tinny. If they hurt, the audiologist can shave the bumpy parts down some. There’s also different kind of mold materials, hard plastic and soft plastic. A lot of hearing aids now come with ‘domes’ a sort of one size fits all thing. I had horrible feedback (squealing) with domes, they itched and I didn’t hear well with them. I also did badly with hard plastic ear molds that inserted into the canal only. They constantly worked their way out and I was poking them back in which made my ears sore. Next we tried custom molds made for me (red!) with soft rubber material and a little kickstand to help them stay in place. It worked!
Ask for a ‘real ear measure’ test once you get your hearing aids. It will help the audiologist measure how sounds are coming into your ear through the hearing aids. (Not all audiologists do this but they should.) Once I could only tell my audiologist that things sounded harsh without specifics so he ran this test and was able to pin point the possible harsh noises and make it more bearable. It’s a small tube inserted into the hearing aids and just into the ear canal. It’s hooked up to the computer which then generates all tones of speech and measures it out.
I’m sure there’s a lot more I missed. If you questions ask and I will try to get you the answer. Here’s a few links to check out if interested.
More information on t-coils: http://blog.widex.com/post/83699151141/telecoil.
HLAA talks about Unbundling Prices: http://www.hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/HLM_SepOct2011_Unbundling_of_Hearing_Aid_Costs.pdf