If you’ve ever shopped for a hearing aid, you know there are many hearing aid options to choose from. Depending on you or your family member’s needs, you may need an in-the-canal fit, or an in-ear fit, a behind-the-ear hearing aid, and so on… and so on… and so on! Now that you know what configurations are out there, it’s interesting to see how these custom fitted hearing aids are made. Many of you know how expensive hearing aids can be, but did you know what goes into making the custom fitted hearing aids? The guys at How Its Made (a very popular YouTube channel) put together a video to answer the question; How do they make custom hearing aids? Enjoy!
If you’ve ever wondered; Do I need a hearing aid? You just might… Professionals will tell you that hearing loss is such a gradual decline that folks with hearing issues are usually the last to know. Many times they blame hearing issues on others, believing friends are mumbling, or perhaps they’re “quiet talkers” (to steal a Seinfeldism).
Do I need a hearing aid?
News reporter Emily Robinson interviews Heather Bennett, an audiologist with Advanced Hearing Centers for some great tips on what to expect if you think you might need a hearing aid. First step (and most obvious on the list) is to get yourself tested. Find a local qualified resource that can professionally diagnose your specific situation, and get some unbiased information on what options are available to you. A number of audiologists sell hearing aids and will likely want to sell you one that they stock.
Buying a hearing aid from an audiologist isn’t a bad idea, but understand what you’re buying before you take the plunge. Search online for equivalent hearing aid prices, and don’t be afraid to negotiate with sellers. Did you know that Costco is now in the hearing aid business? Bottom line is that consumers need to do their homework more than ever. The old adage about making a good purchasing decision still holds true to this day; Buy right… Cry once.
Buying A Hearing Aid
Buying a hearing aid for the first time can be a tough experience for many. So many different hearing aid styles to choose from… In-the-ear, completely-in-the-ear, behind the ear… And the list goes on and on! There a number of new companies entering the hearing aid market (such as Costco and Embrace Hearing) that are providing more competition and innovation in this space. This is good news for all!
As we said, buying the right hearing aid is not easy. Fortunately there are a number of resources to help guide you on your quest for better hearing. Our goal here at The Senior List is to bring you information that matters to you and your family. That said, we’re pleased to be able to share a video from Consumer Reports that offers advice on choosing the proper hearing aid. If you have other helpful hints that were successful for you, please pass them along.
Consumer Reports (video): Tips on buying a hearing aid
More About Buying a Hearing Aid:
Today, The Senior List continues our focus on the hearing aid market in an effort to inform our readers, and assist the millions of folks out there with hearing loss. Odd are each and every one of you reading this post knows someone who wears a hearing aid, OR knows someone suffering from hearing loss. In the U.S. alone, 37 million people suffer from hearing loss, and that number is growing exponentially. One of the most important aspects of maintaining your hearing aid (for optimal performance) is regular cleaning. It’s important for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the amount of debris that collects in and around your device such as ear wax, dirt, and the like.
Here’s a nice tutorial we found from Ascent Hearing Care in the UK (website temporarily unavailable). Ascent Hearing Care is on Twitter (@AscentHearing). In the video, a representative from Ascent Hearing discusses how to clean a hearing aid. They describe just HOW to care for your hearing device, and WHY you should clean your hearing aid for “securing optimum performance”.
How To Clean A Hearing Aid
If you’re interested in learning more about solutions to hearing loss, you might enjoy the following posts:
A couple of wonderful videos of people hearing for the first time (with the help of a hearing device)
In this report on hearing loss and hearing aids we thought we’d take an opportunity to pass along a couple of our favorite videos on the subject. The 2 videos below are wonderful reminders that illustrate the truly touching moment of folks hearing for the first time (due to hearing aid and/or implant technology). Enjoy!
29 year old deaf woman delights in hearing her voice for the first time (video)
Little girl hears for the first time with implant technology (video)
How Disruptors (like Costco & Embrace Hearing) In The Hearing Aid Market Are Shaking Things Up
Why Costco is Targeting the Hearing Aid Market
How to Choose the Right Hearing Aid for You
How Big Is The Hearing Aid Market?
If you’ve been following our series on hearing aids, you know that this is a huge market with skyrocketing growth potential. Consider these stats; There are 35 million U.S. consumers that could benefit from a hearing aid, and only a quarter of them actually wear them. (Why? They’re darn expensive!) Also consider that the first wave of Boomers (79 million strong) just started turning 65. The walkman generation that started pluggin-in 33 years ago is going to turn this market… (get ready for it)… on it’s ear!
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”. – From The Senior List article “How To Choose A Hearing Aid“
Newcomers To The Hearing Aid Market
There are some interesting challenges going on in the hearing aid space that could spark some disruption in this market. First; Costco saw the writing on the wall, and recently began selling hearing aids through Costco Hearing Centers. This is great news for consumers. When you combine Costco’s BUYING POWER with a committed focus on QUALITY CUSTOMER SERVICE, every market tunes-in (and subsequently tunes-up.) This means everyone else that wants to stay in this game will have to sharpen their pencils, re-think their marketing strategies, and improve customer service in a big way.
The second big disruption in this arena occurred when two former Stanford classmates (Sam Tanzer and Ross Porter) formed an unlikely partnership. These two entrepreneurs saw a stale market with a ton of growth potential and decided to form Embrace Hearing, a company “making high-quality hearing aids available at affordable prices”. These guys seem to get it, and they’re applying start-up-muscle to solve the problems they see inherent in this space. Embrace Hearing cuts out the middle man, and keeps it simple. They offer just 3 options when ordering direct; a base model at $399, a mid tier model at $599 and a high end at $899 (*price per ear when ordering a pair). The higher the price point, the more features in the hearing aid.
Ross Porter (co-founder) tells The Senior List what he thinks is wrong with the current distribution model for hearing aids, and where he thinks it’s going; “Audiologists run loss-making businesses that are subsidized by the sale of hearing aids. When a customer pays $5,000 for hearing aids, he’s paying perhaps $100 for the manufacturer’s cost, $900 for the manufacturer’s profit margin, $1,000 for the audiologist’s time, and then $3,000 to cover the overhead of an inefficient, legacy brick & mortar distribution system that will ultimately be made more efficient by the spread of online distribution. It’s important to understand that audiologists are not price gouging — but given their high fixed cost structure, they literally cannot make hearing aids affordable without going out of business. But the world is changing, and patient needs – not audiologist needs – will determine how hearing aids are distributed in the future. We believe that online hearing aid retailers, like Embrace Hearing, will soon dominate the hearing aid industry, leaving audiologists able to do the medical screenings and testing they are trained to do, and not the salesperson job that they are forced into.”
“A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in the new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.” – Wikipedia
The Hearing Aid Market
The hearing aid market is past due for some disruption. Make no mistake about it- there are some fantastic, extremely competent, and caring folks working in hearing loss centers (all across the U.S.). The vast majority of these professionals go to work with one thing in mind. To make a difference in someones life by improving problems caused by hearing loss. Markets do what markets do… until they’re forced to correct, or to change course. They don’t change course unless there is a compelling reason to do so. This market is is a monster ($6 billion today & $8 billion by 2018 – CNBC reports) and there ARE compelling reasons for disruptive innovators to think about moving-in here… John F. Kennedy once said “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Here’s to all the disruptive innovators out there looking ahead, and looking to shake things up a bit. – Cheers -
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!
Costco is one of our favorite members-only retail outlets. They stock everything from detergents to computers and so much more! They have buyer programs for cars and trucks, and even host a Costco Travel Agency. Need an outdoor building? No problem… Looking for a car battery? Right this way madam… Just walk past the high-end DSLR cameras, the camping supplies, and the leather theater seating! It’s simply nirvana for all you shopaholics out there.
One of the more interesting trends that The Senior List has been tracking is Costco’s move into the lucrative boomer and senior spaces. This has been a market where traditional (specialty-retailers) have reigned supreme. A targeted focus on aging Americans can payoff in many ways. First, the boomer/senior market is already contributing to America’s bottom line and we’re only scratching the surface here folks. Second, Costco’s entry into these spaces will force transparency into markets that have (in some cases) fleeced consumers for years. Costco’s big-box-approach AND focus on service is bound to make traditional retailers for; hearing aids, durable goods (walkers, canes, etc.), eye-wear (glasses, etc.), prescriptions, medical alert systems, nutritional supplements, adult briefs (incontinence products) and travel… shake in their proverbial boots.
If you research the medical alert industry for example, you’ll find that there are a number players, big and small. What’s not so easy to find is information on the quality of medical alert systems, where to purchase them, how much they cost, and the dependability of the call centers themselves. The Senior List has been following the medical alert industry for quite some time, and there are some great companies out there. Did you know that you can now purchase a medical alert system at Costco? They’re for sale at certain stores, (call for availability) and available now at Costco online. These big box sellers will end up putting pressure on specialty, (and online) retailers to provide more transparency to the solutions they provide. The big box stores will also force manufacturers and retailers to provide better services in support of their solutions. Finally Costco will force these competitors to sharpen their pencils and lower their prices (if they wish to compete).
If you take a look at the hearing aid market, you’ll note that this is another market that Costco has targeted. With resounding success they have set up prescription eye glass centers, Costco is now selling hearing aids via their Costco Hearing Aid Centers. According to the New York Times, “About 37 million people suffer from some form of hearing loss — from minor impairment to total deafness — in the United States. But less than a quarter of the people who could benefit from hearing aids actually use them.” Keep in mind that this is the number cited today. The future will be mind-boggling for the hearing loss industry. Walkmans (boomers will know what I’m talking about), iPods, iPhones, and specialty head phones are turning this market upside down. Newer, cost-effective solutions will be required, and Costco sees the writing on the wall.
The new big box focus on boomers/seniors is a win-win-win for everybody. It’s good for Costco (and other big box retailers), it’s good for industry (makes them better) and it’s great for consumers. Specialty retail must adapt or they’ll be forced out. For small business, a focus on service, value adds, personal care, expertise, and buy-local initiatives is the only way some will survive. The silver lining is in the numbers however… with 79 million aging boomers in the U.S. there’s plenty of business to go around. The first wave of boomers just started turning 65, so this trend is just the beginning.
The Hearing Aid Market
There’s an awful lot of confusion out there about hearing aids. This is a $6 billion dollar industry today and CNBC reports it could reach $8 billion by 2018! Hearing aids can cost consumers between a couple hundred dollars to thousands (ya that’s a plural)! The secondary market is also booming… Hearing aid adjustments AND service. So where can you turn for reliable information about hearing aids? As it turns out… Reliable information is hard to find. It’s extremely clouded by marketing companies trying to make a buck. The Senior List did find some quality articles that we’re happy to forward on. Additionally, we’ll be looking into this market much more closely, and making some recommendations down the road.
Walkman & iPod Add To Hearing Loss Numbers
Just as we’ve watched (and reported on) the medical alert (and fall detection) market, we’re going to begin tracking the hearing aid marketplace much more closely in an effort to help consumers navigate these confusing waters. With millions of boomers and seniors already in the market for hearing aids, this industry is due to explode. In a matter of years, those of us that experienced the “Walkman Revolution” will be in our 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. Things didn’t just stop with the Sony Walkman… they drastically accelerated to Microsoft Zune and the ubiquitous iPod. If hearing loss is an issue today (and it is a BIG issue) think about what the next decade holds! This industry will boom in the coming years, and what’s needed is some focus and transparency here. Opportunities abound for (legitimate) companies that gain the public’s trust and build their brand. If the value proposition is there, this is one of those rare situations where consumers AND manufacturers will win.
“In a matter of years, those of us that experienced the “Walkman Revolution” will be in our 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. Things didn’t just stop with the Sony Walkman… they drastically accelerated to Microsoft Zune and the ubiquitous iPod.”
Read More: For now, here are some great resources to consider before taking the plunge.