If you’re currently in the market for a hearing aid, you may find yourself tempted by some of the inexpensive models available on the Internet or advertisements in newspapers. Unfortunately, taking an online hearing test or buying an inexpensive device online is very unlikely to get you the hearing assistance you need and deserve and can be a waste of your finances as well. Hearing aids have become very technical and advanced. This guide will walk you through the steps of choosing, buying, and getting fitted for a hearing aid that will offer you the best possible results -- not just the lowest price.
Start with a Proper Hearing Evaluation
Before choosing a hearing aid, you need to have a diagnostic hearing evaluation performed by a physician or audiologist. This is different from a hearing screening or online hearing test. It takes place in a soundproof booth and it evaluates four components, all of which affect our hearing:
- Air conduction
- Bone conduction
- Middle ear assessment
- Speech testing
This comprehensive evaluation must be performed to determine if further medical evaluation is needed before a hearing aid is chosen. Although few people require further testing beyond this, unusual symptoms such as dizziness or sudden changes in hearing may be a sign of more serious medical conditions. If medical management is needed, that must happen first.
A professional audiologist is able to perform and interpret this hearing evaluation and knows this is a key component of acceptable clinical practice to rule out any suspect elements and then move forward with finding the best hearing aid to meet each person’s individual needs. You will not get this from a routine screening or online hearing test.
Setting Expectations of Life with Hearing Aids
Based on the hearing evaluation, an audiologist will work with each patient to decide the right course of action. This will include discussions with the patient, family members, friends, and other people in the patient’s daily life. The purpose of these discussions is to set realistic expectations for what a hearing aid can and cannot do. Every patient is different, and there is no way to get the same result with the same hearing aid with every person. Environment and lifestyle make a huge difference in what kind of technology will be best for each patient. A person who lives a quiet life at home alone will have different needs than one with a lively social circle, or someone who lives in a noisy, active environment.
Once these needs are determined, decisions about cost and features can be made as the patients decide what works best for their life. Above all, the patient should know there will be limitations to any device they choose and an honest and open conversation with an audiologist can set realistic expectations.
Follow-up after the patient is wearing the hearing aid is also extremely important to the process. A patient should not expect to just pick a hearing aid and be done. A good audiologist will not send patients out the door and expect to not see them again. Hearing is a changing process, and routine visits for adjustments and enhancements of the hearing aid programming should be part of that process. Again, this is not a service that is available through an online service.
Ordering and Fitting
Once the patient has undergone the proper evaluation, the audiologist can work with them to help choose a device. The patient chooses the type, level, and color of the hearing aid, as well as any customizations or accessories. An impression of the ear may need to be taken for proper sizing. Altogether, the process from fitting to receiving the hearing aid often takes two weeks or less.
By Virginia state mandate, all hearing aid fittings require a minimum of a 30-day trial period. If the patient is not happy or satisfied with the fitting of their hearing aid, they have the option to return it.
The purchase of a hearing aid can involve considerable expense. Some health insurance companies offer benefits that will cover part of the cost. Few will compensate for the entire purchase price. There are also some organizations that provide financial assistance, although these require an application process that takes time. Some financing options may be available, depending on where the hearing aid is purchased.
Many consumers believe that all hearing aids are created equal, and that a “basic” hearing aid should provide great performance in every listening situation. This is simply not true. Most hearing aids look the same from the outside -- what matters is the chip inside the device. Just as all hearing aids are not alike, every hearing deficit is not alike. For the best results, don’t just pick a hearing aid from a website. Rather, get good, professional advice from people with the proper expertise who are readily available for follow up visits if/when needed.
In regard to follow up visits, buyers should make certain this service is included in the purchase price of the hearing aid, preferably for a minimum of a year. Optimally, follow-up visits should be included for the same period as the service warranty on the hearing aid. This will reduce additional costs associated with follow-up visits and adjustments.