Haims: Do your homework on hearing aids | VailDaily.com

Haims: Do your homework on hearing aids

There was a time before the likes of Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, and other web-based consumer travel providers — a time when travel arrangements were made by a professional travel agent. Often these professionals managed your travel itinerary, knew destinations, hotels, and restaurants personally.  Therefore, their firsthand experiences enabled them to give awesome advice.

And, when things went awry, they often had the ability to offer solutions that enabled you to have a less stressed and joyful experience. Customer service — it was great.

Nowadays, while web-based consumer travel providers offer quick, convenient and discounted products, they lack a personal experience, which can sometimes lead to frustration and a disappointing experience. For example, that hotel room “deal” offered online might face a noisy freeway or have sheets that feel like sandpaper. Worse yet, that “special” dinner at a restaurant with a four-star customer rating may end up being quite disappointing. Relying on online recommendations is often not as reliable as you may hope.

Unfortunately, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, people with hearing loss wait an average of seven years before seeking help and only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one. By making them available via retail outlets, not only will accessibility increase, but affordability and innovation will, too.

Come October, hearing aids will become available directly to consumers. Retailers like Costco, Best Buy, Walgreens and CVS will sell you a hearing aid for far less than what an audiologist may quote. However, the likelihood that you purchase exactly what you thought you need may not be clear-cut.  So, “buyer beware” and do your research.

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Over-the-counter hearing aids are intended for adults with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss — not severe hearing loss. Further, they are not intended for children. For the estimated 15% of American adults (37.5 million) who are over 18 and report some trouble hearing, over-the-counter hearing aids will open options.

Hearing aids, both over-the-counter and by prescription, are not a one-size-fits-all item as each person’s hearing loss is unique. What may work for a friend or family member may not work well for you. Think about eyeglasses: While you can buy “readers” at a local market or drug store, they are intended to be generic, inexpensive, and of a different quality than a customized pair of prescription glasses. They serve a purpose as long as you don’t need a different power of prescription for each eye or, have a pupillary distance that may be outside of the “sweet spot” provided by a generic model.

Over-the-counter hearing aids will not require a prescription from a medical provider, nor will they require a visit to an audiologist. Therefore, customizing the device(s) will come from the assistance of telehealth visits, online- and app-based hearing tests. Consumers will be able to make changes in pitch (e.g., bass versus treble) and volume (e.g., louder or quieter). While they will boost ranges of sound, they may not adjust to specific frequencies for which prescription hearing aids are designed.

Over-the-counter hearing aids may very well lower prices by disrupting the overall hearing aid market. Currently, the top six major providers of hearing aids have established a price range of about $1,000 to $4,000 per unit. When you add to the cost of the unit itself, a doctor’s visit, hearing test, and specialist to evaluate a customized fit, prescription hearing aids can be very expensive. With companies such as Apple, Samsung, and Bose entering the hearing aid market, competition and innovation will bring down costs.

If an over-the-counter hearing aid sounds enticing, you should educate yourself on the various designs and offerings. As well, you should first make sure you’re a good candidate for them by visiting a hearing specialist who can provide you a copy of your audiogram — a chart that details your hearing ability in a range of frequencies. The audiogram can then be used to customize your hearing device.

Types to consider:

  • Receiver-in-canal: The part of an RIC hearing aid that contains the microphone and amplifier rests behind the ear and a tiny receiver/speaker goes into the ear canal rather than a mold that fills up the ear opening.
  • In-the-ear: ITE devices sit completely in the ear, with all of the parts contained inside a plastic case that fit in your ear.
  • Completely-in-canal: CIC devices are barely noticeable in the ear. In-canal hearing aids have a short string that hangs out of the ear canal (but still out-of-sight) for removal of the device.

Other considerations:

  • Is there a free trial period, or a money-back return policy?
  • Does it need a smartphone, app, or computer to install, operate, and customize to my needs?
  • Is it compatible with cellphones, or smartphones?
  • Does it have connectivity via Bluetooth, smartphone or computer?
  • Can the hearing aid’s amplification be adjusted? How do you control feedback?
  • Is it water/sweat resistant?

Over-the-counter hearing aids will be a great step toward improving affordability and accessibility. However, before you buy, spend the time to educate yourself. Remember, while affordability and accessibility are great, there’s something to be said for customer service and the guidance of a professional.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.

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