Which Hearing Aid Is Right For Me?
We love to write about technology here at The Senior List. You’ve probably read our take on medical alert systems, computers for seniors, and best apps for seniors too. One area we started looking at more closely is the hearing aid market. This is a booming market for a lot of reasons. First, boomers are aging… 79 million baby boomers just began turning 65. These boomers were the first generation to plug-in. They plugged (their headphones) in to high fidelity stereo’s for the first time… they plugged in to the Sony Walkman… and kept plugging-in all the way to the iPod, iPhone and iPad that we all seem to have today.
The market for hearing aids is already huge. The NY Times reports that 37 million people already suffer from some form of hearing loss in the United States. We believe this number will skyrocket in the coming decade. Given so many of us will be shopping for a hearing aid in the next 10-20 years, we wanted to examine the different types of hearing aids available today. In future posts, we’ll look at each individual market segment and evaluate quality/service of the major providers.
To start this series off, let’s take a look at the different hearing aid configurations:
Hearing Aid Choices
First; The “completely-in-the-canal” fit: This style fits all the way inside the ear canal, and is barely noticeable (if at all). They are the smallest type hearing aid which means their batteries are also very small. This usually translates into shorter battery life mind you… The completely-in-the-canal hearing aids are typically ordered after a custom mold is taken. These types are great for use with telephones (your not bumping the hearing aid on the phone) and wind noise (the blowing wind) is minimized. The completely-in-the-canal hearing aids are targeted at individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Second; The “in-the-canal” fit: The in-the-canal fit doesn’t sit as far into the ear canal as the completely-in-the-canal fit (obviously). These hearing aids are usually custom molded, and also fitted for folks with mild to moderate hearing loss. Using the in-the-canal hearing aid in conjunction with a phone (at the same ear) is not much of a problem. People with smaller ear canals can have some trouble finding a good fit with these units. This fit is barely detectable by others, and quite conspicuous.
Third; The “in-the-ear” fit: The in-the-ear fit is just how it sounds. It fits nicely in the ear, but this unit is visible to folks that approach at an angle. All of these fits are personal, but frankly we don’t think that anyone needs to keep their hearing loss a secret. There millions of folks out there that admittedly have hearing loss, and millions more that aren’t doing a darn thing about it! OK back on task… In-the-ear hearing aids are custom made to fit your ear. These aids can pick up some wind noise, and can interfere with a telephone that might be resting on it (really depends on the fit and the phone). The larger physical size means that larger batteries can be utilized for more useful-life from the instrument. In-the-ear hearing aids are typically a little less expensive than their in-the-canal cousins. Choose these types for mild to severe hearing loss.
Fourth; The “behind-the-ear” models: Behind-the-ear hearing aids are designed to hook onto the top of the ear and rest conspicuously behind the ear. These models are sold either as an “open fit” or with an “ear mold” that fits into the ear. They are versatile, and quite popular choices for people with all grades of hearing loss (and for children). Behind-the-ear hearing aids are more visible, and larger as compared with the other in-the-ear models, but there are several brands that are making streamlined versions that are smaller and more comfortable to wear.
Choosing A Hearing Aid
There are other styles and other more customized fits, but these are the basic configurations. Keep in mind that these devices are very expensive. Competition is needed to bring down costs, AND to raise the bar on performance. Kaiser Health News suggests that “Only a quarter of the 35 million U.S. adults who could benefit from hearing aids actually get them, and one of the main reasons is money”. They go on to report that insurance companies (for those that have health insurance) are picking up at least part of the tab. “In a national survey of people who bought hearing aids in 2008, nearly 40 percent said their health insurance paid some portion of the cost”. The Senior List will continue to dig into the hearing aid market so that boomer consumers can be better educated (and prepared) for what’s ahead!