1) The good news: Just about any hearing problem can now be solved through today’s advanced hearing aids and/or other devices. There is no longer a hearing loss that exists today that cannot be helped by some form of technology. Today, we have PSAP and assistive (and soon OTC) hearing devices and apps for milder hearing losses; we have hearing aids for the vast majority of people with mild-to-severe hearing losses; we have bone-conduction solutions and cochlear implants, and even auditory brainstem implants for people with rare birth defects. We also have remote microphones and loop (telecoil) systems, TV devices, captioned telephones, and much more. If you or someone you know has a hearing loss, there is a solution out there that will help you or them hear better.
2) The bad news: Untreated hearing loss can negatively affect your physical and mental health—and even your income. Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a variety of chronic health conditions, including falls and balance issues, cardiovascular problems, and even earlier death! As with all the conditions listed here, researchers are quick to note that “association does not imply causality”—meaning hearing loss may be linked to these things, but might not necessarily cause of them. But it’s increasingly clear that hearing health does impact your general health. At the top of the list of bad things associated with hearing loss are poorer marital/conjugal relationships, social isolation and loneliness. Not surprisingly, negative feelings about self-worth and depression are much higher in people with hearing loss. Additionally, hearing loss is increasingly being linked to cognitive impairment and dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, a 2005 study found that individuals with the most serious hearing loss could be expected to earn $12,000 less per year than an individual with a mild hearing loss.
3) Your best bet is to seek help from an EXCELLENT licensed hearing care professional who uses best practices. Although this website offers a variety of products and pathways for gaining access to better hearing, by far the most effective route you can take is to see a skilled hearing care professional (eg, an audiologist, hearing aid specialist, or ENT) who has a stellar reputation in your local area. AND be sure they use best practices! A recent study shows that hearing aids have an extremely high customer satisfaction rate (86%). Although they can be more expensive, a hearing aid from an audiologist or hearing aid specialist who performs the tests and procedures they’re supposed to perform (called “best practices”) is generally well worth the money. But beware! Not all hearing care professionals follow best practices. If yours doesn’t, demand that they do—or move on!
4) But there ARE also some good alternatives to a professional fitting for people with mild hearing loss. That’s because audibility matters, and fairly simple amplification of speech works well for most people with mild hearing losses. No question: a professional fitting is better. But too many people put off buying a hearing aid or trying amplification devices because they think they’re too expensive or (for whatever reason) they don’t want to bother seeing a hearing care professional. Neither of these factors should get in your way! There are many good alternatives for hearing better, particularly in select hearing situations. These can include self-fitting hearing aids, DIY hearing devices, assistive listening devices (ALDs), and PSAPs for situational hearing needs.
5) There ARE good ways to save money on professionally fit hearing aids. The first thing to do is call your insurance company and ask about coverage of hearing aids. You might also consider lower-priced or more basic-level hearing aids from a professional. Studies have shown that—if you’re fitted correctly by a hearing care professional who uses best practices—then you should hear just as well with a basic hearing aid as with the most expensive one. You almost certainly probably won’t get all the Bluetooth connectivity, on-demand access to Siri/Alexa, rechargeability, and other bells-and-whistles, but a well-fit lower-technology hearing aid should provide just as much hearing benefit as a top-of-the-line model. Finally, you don’t have to buy a new hearing aid every 3-5 years. Most last longer. As long as you take care of them and they work well, you can hold on to those aids—even if your hearing aid professional wants you to upgrade. Finally, mass merchandisers like Costco and Sam’s Clubs do offer lower-cost professionally fit hearing aids, but may not always provide the same individualized care you might receive at a private hearing care practice. In general, they’re good options although many people end up later in the offices of a private practice audiologist or hearing aid specialist.
6) Financing is also an option. Particularly when you’re on a fixed income, you might not have enough to cover the cost of a hearing aid. There are several reputable companies that can help you finance the purchase of a hearing aid, cochlear implant, and/or other recommended devices. So, instead of one larger payment, you can opt for a series of payments over time. Some of these companies specialize in hearing aid financing, including CareCredit, Ally Lending, Allegro, Esco, and more. You can usually apply for financing options directly through these companies online, or you can ask about hearing aid financing when visiting your preferred local hearing care office.
7) Make sure your hearing care provider is committed to working with you. If you go the professional route, you should know that it often takes as many as 3-4 visits (in person and/or via online consultations) to get a hearing aid fitting right. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t sound exactly as you had first envisioned. But DO make sure that you can hear well and that—whoever is helping you—is truly a professional you trust and who will work with you to solve your individual hearing needs. Also, be sure that your hearing aid isn’t “locked out” from the software of other hearing aid professionals, just in case you ever want to make a change in providers. And none of this means your hearing will be perfect. You need realistic expectations, because…
8) Sorry, but you’ll never hear again like you did when you were 17. You have about 12,000 hair cells when you’re born and each time one of them dies from harmful noise, drugs (ototoxins), or some other trauma, you’ll never get them back. Hearing aids and sound amplifiers are great and are always improving, but they’re the equivalent of a prosthetic limb: they help you get by with what hearing you have left. One more reason why you should protect your hearing! Hearing aids are not like glasses; the vast majority of hearing losses involve sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) which is akin to retinopathy. Hearing aids compensate for nerve damage and the loss of sensory receptors inside your cochlea (the hearing organ). By comparison, glasses are “corrective lenses” which compensate for the curvature of your cornea and are often close to 100% effective.
9) The 80/80 rule of tinnitus (ringing ears). Tinnitus (ringing ears) is the evil twin of hearing loss. About 80% of people who have tinnitus have hearing loss; similarly, about 80% of people with hearing loss have some kind of tinnitus. For most people, tinnitus is a minor problem—one they can easily ignore. However, for a relatively smaller population, it can be terribly debilitating. In most cases, hearing aids are the most effective treatment for tinnitus, but there is a wide range of other devices, therapies, and support groups for those with chronically severe or bothersome tinnitus.
10) If you first don’t succeed… (read #1 again!). We’re all different, and it’s not rare for people with identical hearing losses to experience vastly different hearing problems and challenges. There isn’t always one solution. Hopefully, the above shows that it’s very important to address your hearing loss. If you’ve tried a hearing solution and it didn’t work well, please keep trying—and preferably find a good hearing care professional in your area who has a stellar reputation and seek their assistance in finding the proper custom solution for you!
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