Adults who experience hearing loss let an average of seven years go by from the time they realize they’re missing things to doing something about it.
If you’re one of those in hearing loss limbo, don’t wait! Think of all the important information, jokes, and whispers you’d miss in seven years. Additionally, recent research shows that untreated hearing loss can increase risk for cognitive decline.
If you’re considering hearing aids, don’t wait any longer. Here’s a Q&A with Adam Bernstein, the owner of The Hearing Professionals – Milwaukee’s largest and oldest hearing healthcare practice.
Mr. Bernstein, what are the questions new patients ask most?
Almost always, the first questions are: What’s it going to look like? And then, how much will it cost?
How do you answer?
That depends. Generally, smaller doesn’t mean better. And just because it’s more expensive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better for you. Every patient has choices as far as size, cost, and features.
What’s most important to know to make good decisions about hearing aids?
First, understand your own hearing loss. The majority of adult-onset hearing losses primarily affect the higher frequencies (high pitches). You may still hear low frequency sounds normally, but high frequencies are crucial to understanding speech. Give some thought to what situations give you the most trouble, and ask loved ones or colleagues what situations they see you struggling in most. Be ready to convey this information to your audiologist.
New hearing aid technology
What are some recent technology advances?
Over the past 10 years, “receiver in the ear” (RIC) technology has become extremely popular.
A RIC hearing aid sits behind the ear and a tiny wire connects it to the “receiver” inside the ear. Before RICs, all hearing aids had their receivers in the hearing aid case itself, and a clear plastic tube connected it to a tight -fitting ear mold inside the ear.
What is the “receiver”?
Think of it as a miniature loudspeaker. When the receiver is moved into the ear, the hearing aid case just has to house the microphone (which collects the sound) and the computer chip (which processes the sound).
Did the RIC style become so popular because it’s less noticeable?
It’s a big reason. Since the receiver is in the ear, the hearing aid case is smaller, and the RIC’s wire is subtler than the standard style’s plastic tube.
Interestingly though, cosmetic appeal is not why RICs were developed. They’re meant to manage “feedback,” whistling sounds from the hearing aid’s microphone that plague some wearers of traditional hearing aids.
RICs often don’t require a tight fitting ear mold, so the trend has been toward “open fit.” Open fit receivers sit in the canal without closing it off. This is good for people who have mostly high-frequency hearing loss. When the canal isn’t filled with an ear mold, you use your natural hearing in the lower ranges while the aids make higher sounds louder. “Open fit,” RIC hearings aren’t right for everyone, but for many age-related hearing losses, it’s one of the best choices.
More hearing aid styles
What about the hearing aids that don’t rest behind your ear, but are in the ear itself?
There are a few types. Standard “in-the-ear” (ITE) hearing aids fill the ear canal and the area around it. “In the canal” (ITC) and “completely in the canal” (CIC) hearing aids are smaller, and you only see a small part of it at the entrance of the canal. “Invisible in the canal” (ITC) hearing aids are placed deep into the canal and are practically unnoticeable.
There’s another type called “extended wear,” which users can’t put in or remove by themselves. A professional inserts and replaces it when the battery dies about every three months. They aren’t visible from the outside, but they’re the only ones we’ve discussed so far that aren’t digital.
What’s the difference between digital and not digital?
If they’re not digital, they’re analog. Digital hearing aids enable much finer tuning to match the hearing loss. Today the vast majority of hearing aids sold are digital. In fact, I can’t even tell you the last time we sold an analog hearing aid!
Assuming people want the least conspicuous hearing aids, can anyone get the smallest ones?
For some people, the smallest hearing aids give them everything they need. But the smallest ones may not be powerful enough for some severe hearing losses. Furthermore, some ears aren’t large enough to accommodate the hearing aids that go deep into the canal, while other people just find it easier to handle a device that isn’t so tiny. Lastly, the user may want certain features that can’t be provided in a very small aid.
What about brands?
When I got into this business nearly 20 years ago, there were 50 or 60 different manufacturers to choose from. Today the industry is down to less than 10 major players. The biggest manufacturers are Phoank, Unitron and Oticon.
Are there certain brands that are better than others?
Just because one person gets a Phoank hearing aid, it doesn’t mean that Phonak is the best for the next person. That’s like saying a “Ford” is the best car for each and every person out there. That’s why we sell hearing aids from a number of the different manufacturers.
If I have a hearing loss, what should I do next?
I would start off by talking to your family and friends for recommendations. Word of mouth is often the most effective way to find a great provider. You can also ask your primary care doctor for a suggestion. Their office will likely give you a list of recommendations.
If asking around isn’t getting you anywhere, open the yellow pages. Or, check the medial section of the newspaper. But remember – just because someone has a big ad in the newspaper, it doesn’t automatically make them a good provider.