By Claudia M. Caruana
Most folks who wear hearing aids will tell you that their first telephone call to a hearing care office for a hearing evaluation and fitting for hearing aids was “difficult.”
After all, “being old” still is something society associates with hearing loss and many of us, too, are embarrassed with the thought that our hearing is not what it should be. Somehow, wearing eyeglasses, which most of us do, doesn’t pose such a problem.
Many of those same folks who worried about being fitted for hearing aids and then started using them acknowledge that it was something they should have done “a long time ago.” In fact, several studies show that it takes around 7 years before someone who has a serious hearing problem actually visits an audiologist or hearing aid specialist for a hearing evaluation.
Think it might be time for you to contact a hearing care professional (HCP), but you don’t know where to start? Here’s information that will help you get started in making an important healthcare relationship.
Of course, first things first.
Being fitting for a hearing aid is not a “one visit and you’re done” deal. So, you will want to work with an audiologist who will be available to fit your schedule and probably nearby, not a 2-hour drive away.
Ask your healthcare providers about local audiologists and hearing aid specialists, as well as friends or neighbors, for recommendations. There are also some useful websites that rate hearing care providers like Yelp.com and HearingTracker.com.
Up until fairly recently, it was required that you see a medical doctor or sign a waiver prior to being fit with a hearing aid. This is no longer the case. However, it does underline the fact that hearing loss can be a tip-off for more serious health problems. (See the article, When Should You See a Physician or Audiologist About Hearing Loss?)
Some hearing care providers will only fit one specific brand of hearing aids; others may fit several. So, you might want to ask about this in your initial telephone call for an appointment.
Be wary of telephone or mail promotions offering you a meal at a local restaurant or some other place and a basic screening of your hearing. Although the hearing aids offered might be less expensive than those prescribed by an audiologist in private practice, you might not be able to get those hearing aids adjusted to meet your hearing requirements or serviced if they need repair. The same applies to hearing aids purchased on-line.
A Visit to a Hearing Care Professional
First, you will need a comprehensive hearing needs assessment and evaluation. That usually includes a discussion about your hearing issues and your general health. An audiologist often will ask if you have balance issues because in some cases, balance can be a result of hearing problems.
Then, the HCP also will perform a comprehensive hearing test in a sound booth. The exam includes the familiar listening to different tones at different volumes to generate an audiogram, or a frequency-specific graph of your hearing ability. They will place a small headset on you and test your bone conducted hearing, as well as insert a device called a tympanometer into your ear canal in that emits a tiny puff of air to see how your middle ear (ie, your eardrum and tiny bones inside your ear) is working. You might also be asked to repeat words the audiologist speaks without being able to “read” their lips. Another important test assesses your hearing speech in noise at various background noise levels. Other tests might be administered, as determined by your HCP, but the above are the most common and important tests that everyone should receive during a hearing examination (also see, “Best Practices: What Tests Should You Receive from a Hearing Care Provider?”)
Once completed, your hearing care provider will go over the test results and make recommendations as to the need for hearing aids and other treatments based on the evaluation, as well as the type of hearing aids that would work best for you.
What type of hearing aid you choose—in-the-ear (ITE), behind-the-ear (BTE), or in-the-canal (ITC)—depends on your hearing loss, lifestyle, personal preferences, and of course, your budget (see the article, “Hearing Aid Types, Styles, and Options”).
Although there are several over-the-counter (OTC) and self-fitting hearing products that make sounds louder and can be very helpful to people with milder losses, they are not just less expensive versions of hearing aids. Hearing aids are programmed by an audiologist or HCP to not only amplify sounds, but also to mitigate others problems. Many of the more expensive hearing aids have several programs that are designed for different situations: social, such as when you are at a party or eating with family and friends in a restaurant or travel on public transit. More expensive hearing aids often can be programmed to have random sounds, which can be helpful for relaxing.
Some insurance policies do cover the cost or part of the cost of hearing aids in their plans; others, including Medicare, do not. Medicare Advantage Plans might pay part of the cost for hearing aids dispensed by specific providers. If you are a veteran, check with the veteran’s administration for hearing benefits for which you might be entitled at little or no cost. (Also see the article, Federal and VA Assistance for Hearing Devices.
Make sure to ask if a certain number of visits for adjustments are covered in the fee the audiologist is charging for the hearing aids. Sometimes, a specific number of visits are included; other times, the HCP will charge for individual visits after the initial visit.
Don’t forget. Expect to visit the HCP possibly several times after you take home your hearing aids, which may take a few weeks to have fitted after you have ordered them. Return visits are important because the hearing aids might need to be fine-tuned to meet your hearing needs.
Related Article: Best Practices: What Tests Should You Receive from a Hearing Care Provider?
Your audiologist or HCP will want to make sure you are receiving the most out of your hearing aids. You also might need repairs so you will want to make sure the hearing professional is established and will be there for you, if and when, you might need repairs.
Questions the HCP might ask you include for how long each day you plan on wearing your hearing aids? Most audiologists will recommend your wearing your new hearing aids for a few hours initially and then build up to wearing them longer and longer. Wearing them when you are home is important.
People after initially being fitted for hearing aids and getting used to them, typically will wear them 12 hours a day or even more, depending on their lifestyle and what they may be doing during the day.
Remember, hearing aids are not meant to be kept in the drawer and just popped into your ears when you are going out with friends to a dinner or a show. You need to use them. Most users will tell you their quality of life has improved: they can participate in more conversations because they can hear the folks around them and not feel they have to shout to be heard. They no longer have to blast the television or radio.
Life can sound a lot better.
About the author: Claudia M. Caruana is a freelance writer who has hearing loss which runs in her family.