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Hearing Aid Buying Guide: What To Expect Before You Buy

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.

 

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.

How to choose a hearing aidThe 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

completely-in-the-canal hearing aid photoFirst; 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.

in-the-canal hearing aid photoSecond; 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.

in-the-ear hearing aid photoThird; 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.

behind-the-ear hearing aid photoFourth; 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!

Also Read:

How Costco is targeting boomers and seniors by moving into the hearing aid arena

Video:

Hearing Aid Companies

The following are a list of some of the top hearing aid providers:

The Hearing Aid Market

Hearing aid market growth

There's an awful lot of confusion out there about hearing aids.  This is a $6 billion dollar industry today and CNBC reports the hearing aid market growth 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 market growth 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.”

9 Comments

  1. My mother (74) for the last 40 years has been dealing with both ears (she lost 80% hearing+ four surgeries, infections, treatments, expensive hearing aids, repairs, etc). One day, we bought a hearing amplifier for $20 USD aprox. She is happy and she has a ritual. If she needs a call, drive or receive visits, she uses it, rest of the time, no. Why? CLEANING/”FREE AREA”. Ears have cerumen & sweat. Before and after to put an amplifier aid, she cleans her ears with a tissue and also the silicone part too. Silicone part is washed every day at night or twice if it is a warm day. This ritual is to prevent infections. I check sales and I buy batteries packages. One battery is for almost 14-20 hours of USE (she turn it off at night and when it is not in use). Watching TV: she prefers closed caption mode, sometimes she combines the amplifier. If she is in a party or noise places: she turns amplifier off. She tried with rechargeable one but she was uncomfortable (the little cable behind her ear + her glasses = problem. She feels better with the one called “micro plus”. I buy two per year and every Christmas she receives batteries packages! Cellphones are a problem for her. Any hearing aid or amplifier can’t help her because she has to use “speaker” and she doesn’t feel ok. At home, she uses speaker with her phone set.
  2. I like how you mention that it’s important to consider what you need to do when it’s time to consider shopping for a hearing aid. Getting yourself tested is the first most important thing to do, as well as consulting with an audiologist to make sure that you’re suited for a hearing aid that you would be buying in the near future. While I haven’t the need for a hearing aid yet, I know that my mother needs one as she keeps complaining about being unable to hear out of her left ear.
  3. I like how you mentioned the importance of doing your research before buying hearing aids. My husband has been having some problems with hearing properly, and I want to visit an audiologist to see if he need hearing aids. I imagine that we’ll end up getting him a pair, so maybe it would be a good idea to do some research and compare prices before we make a decision.
  4. I am thinking that my wife will need to get hearing aids. It is getting pretty difficult to communicate because she can hardly hear anything that I say! It is interesting that professionals say it is a gradual decline in folks. That’s what I feel like it has been for my wife. It will be good for her to get some!
  5. I’m slowly losing my hearing and need to see an audiologist. Thanks for the advice about how the first thing to do is to get tested. I would also consider getting an audiologist that will help you get the best price on a hearing aid.
  6. There is another side to this issue that you’ve never covered:: the ongoing battle between Costco (and other large retailers) and audiologists. Costco is lobbying state legislatures nationwide to reduce requirements to dispense hearing aids. Audiologists point to Johns Hopkins studies showing poorly treated hearing loss accelerates dementia and other cognitive decline. Audiologists may have a self-interest here, however, the Hopkins research is very compelling
  7. The expansion of the online hearing aid market offers another option for purchasing hearing aids: http://www.audicus.com/blogs/hearing-aids-blog/6772256-online-hearing-aids-innovation-in-hearing-aid-industry-highlighted-by-press

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