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Buying a hearing aid? Here’s what you need to know

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By Rex Banks, M.A.CCC-A, Reg. CASLPO Chief Audiologist, Canadian Hearing Society

Getting your hearing tested and being told that you need hearing aids can be a lot to absorb at one time. Between sorting through the many advertisements and coming to terms with the high cost of hearing aids, the entire process can be confusing and overwhelming. But fear not: in this article, we will provide some guidance and advice to help you feel better prepared in terms of what to expect.

Hearing Aid Evaluation

During the hearing aid consultation visit (often called a hearing aid evaluation), the audiologist will walk you through quite a bit of information. The first thing you must have is a thorough understanding of your hearing test (called an audiogram). The audiologist should review the audiogram in detail and answer any questions about your overall communication ability. For example, you may hear vowels better than consonants, men’s voices better than women and children’s, or understand speech more easily in quiet environments rather than noisy ones. Don’t be shy in this first step: understanding the audiogram is an important starting point when purchasing hearing aids.

Before you come to your evaluation:

  1. Do your homework – Get as much basic knowledge about hearing aids as possible.
  2. Make a list – Outline the key priorities you want addressed by your audiologist
  3. Check your coverage – Find out if your health insurance offers hearing aid coverage.

Sizes and Types of Hearing Aids

After explaining your audiogram, the audiologist will review the various sizes and styles of hearing aids to help determine which ones you like most. It is important to understand that some decisions will be driven by the amount of hearing loss you have, if you have experienced changes in your vision, or if you have difficulty manipulating small objects – like changing a hearing aid battery, for example.

You will also be advised if you should wear one or two hearing aids and the pros and cons of each scenario. During the process, the audiologist will discuss the details related to the hearing aid style and size you’re considering. Details may include your colour preference, the battery type, volume control issues, options for using the hearing aid with the telephone, remote control issues (if the hearing aid comes with one), and information on any other buttons or switches.

At this point, you will be asked specific questions about your communication abilities, lifestyle, and what you want the hearing aids to accomplish in terms of your listening needs. Once the audiologist knows your goals, he/she will let you know what’s realistic.

Depending on your overall communication goals, the audiologist will make some recommendations around the level of technology that will best suit your needs. When I refer to the level of technology, I’m referring to what’s inside of the hearing aid; most hearing aids are digital and have computer chips inside which process sounds and speech. Depending on the complexity of the chip, the hearing aid has access to different functions and options related to digital signal processing, feedback cancellation, noise reduction, directional microphones, listening programs, telephone options, wireless connectivity, and Bluetooth accessories – all to assist in your hearing.

Price and Payment

In a perfect world, cost wouldn’t be an issue, but like many other products on the market, hearing aids have different price points as well. There are three levels of technology: entry, mid-range, and advanced. Based on all of the information you’ve discussed with the audiologist, he/she will advise you on which level of technology would work best for you. Many people fall into the entry or midrange device category for price and technology. However, if you have a particularly busy lifestyle with high demands on communication based on work, school, recreational, or social interactions, then advanced technology may be recommended.

It is very important to let your audiologist know what you want to spend on your hearing aid. This will help the audiologist recommend the right hearing aid at the right price point that is suited to your unique needs.

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