What You Need to Know Before You Buy Hearing Aids
In today’s world, the purchase of hearing aids is a major purchase and should not be done without being informed. Part of the process of getting information is your responsibility. Therefore, in preparation for meeting with a qualified hearing health care professional to buy hearing aids, there are a few steps you should take to ensure that you get the most out of the visit and purchase.
Most importantly, you should not only have had a complete hearing test administered, but you should also have had your test results explained to you in detail. Make sure you have the results handy so you can bring them to discuss with the hearing health care provider. Audiologists have the most formal academic education in providing this testing and explaining the test results. In Canada today, all audiologists have Master Degrees from a recognized University program and are well versed in explaining what the test results mean.
Hearing aids are just that – aids that help you hear “better” than without them. They will never take the place of normal hearing. You have to understanding that you have damaged inner ear hair cells . This results in sensori-neural hearing loss. This means there is no surgical procedure that can correct this hearing problem. Simply put, a hearing aid helps you maximize what hearing capacity you have left.
Let me digress here to explain what I mean by “hear better”. In the audiology world Audiologists talk about your ability to “hear” and your ability to understand what you hear or “speech discrimination”. These two important points are often misunderstood. When the Audiologist explains the test results to you, she/he should show you an “audiogram”. The audiogram is a graphical representation of how well you hear at various frequencies (pitch tones) at the time the test was completed. Another component of a complete hearing evaluation is “speech discrimination” testing. The test score, in percent, is your ability to “clearly understand” and repeat the words that were presented to you.
The higher the score the better. Persons who have more inner ear hair cell damage usually have lower “speech discrimination” scores. Persons who have high pitch hearing losses, the area where consonants sound are heard and give meaning to speech, have lower speech discrimination scores. Often what they will tell you is “I heard you say something, but I did not understand it” – sound familiar?
Before going to the hearing health care professional’s office, it is important to make a prioritized list of the concerns/ problems situations that you have and what expectations you wish to get from your hearing aids. You should also call your insurance provider to find out ahead of time if any part of your purchase or any of your fittings will be covered. Unfortunately, most insurance companies do not offer coverage when you buy hearing aids, but some do, and it is important to ask. Finally, if you feel it is necessary, recruit a friend or family member to go with you - someone who has no problem saying no to high-pressure sales tactics, should the situation arise. It is my opinion that you should “buy” hearing aids that provide “benefit” and not "sold" something that is going to sit in the case in which it was bought!
At the Hearing Health Care Provider's Office
When you are at the hearing health care professional’s office of your choice, if you are still unclear about your hearing test results, ask about them first. Be sure that you understand the answers completely. Next, present your prioritized list and ask the hearing health care professional to discuss it with you. You should be able to find out which items on your list you can reasonably expect when you “buy” your hearing aids, and which may not be possible to achieve with your particular level of hearing loss. I cannot stress this point enough, for it is at this point in the delivery of hearing health care that “makes” or “breaks” a successful hearing aid fitting. If you have unrealistic expectations and the hearing health care provider does not advise you as such, both parties will be unsatisfied. That is, the provider has set you up to “fail” in your expectations. This leads to dissatisfaction on your end and the provider usually has you, “a dissatisfied customer”, telling potential new customers that “these hearing aids do not work”.
Today hearing aids come in many different styles and colours. Basically there are two major styles of hearing aids; behind the ear (BTE) and “custom” fit to your ear. These two styles can be further explained by your hearing health care provider. Discussion should revolve around the various options available and have the most benefit given your hearing loss and life style. For example, if you have limited dexterity - from such health conditions as arthritis or complications from diabetes - you may wish to buy hearing aids that have larger, easier-to-use controls or even a remote control. If mobility is not an issue for you, you may instead look to buy hearing aids that are smaller and less visible.
Two Hearing Aids verses One
When your vision health care provider said both your eyes needed corrective lenses, did you ask if I only wear one lens would it fix my vision problem? Why would your ears be any different? Clinical research has shown that two hearing aids are better than one. There are several reasons for this: 1) It increases speech understanding – two hearing aids deliver more of the speech sounds that give clarity to the words you hear. This is especially important in noisy situations. 2) Enhanced sound quality – sounds have a fuller quality and give you a sense of balance. 3) Volume controls can be set lower, minimizing the risk of distortion and auditory fatigue making for a more comfortable listening environment. 4) Improved localization – the brain receives sounds from both the left and right ears, making it easier to locate the direction from which a sound is coming from. Professionally, audiologists are required to explain to you that two hearing aids, when appropriate, will provide you with more benefit than wearing one based on our code of ethics. Often this comes across as a “sales pitch” to purchase two hearing aids. Not so. There is good science to support the benefits of wearing two hearing aids.
Hearing aid technology and innovations has exploded in the past few years. They have become smaller and the amplifier that houses the chip in the hearing aids is capable of many more functions. In most hearing aids today, “wind noise reduction”, “noise cancellation”, “automatic feedback suppression”, “alerting tones to program changes” or “low battery indicators” are all standard features – some companies however do charge for them. There are even more features that are available at an additional cost. Find out which options are available including the cost for these options with the hearing aid models that work best for your needs. Consider which options you will actually use, and which are not worth the extra money. For example, do you have problems hearing on the phone? A “T-coil” in the hearing aid would be of benefit to you. T-coil’s can be an automatic function or a manual one. If you are in noisy situations many times during the week - you like to go to restaurants, or you work in a noisy environment - then you may want to buy hearing aids that have directional microphones. If on the other hand you rarely leave your home or you are rarely in loud situations, then you may not need to spend the money on this feature. Are you a gardener who spends a considerable amount of time outdoors - a wind noise reduction circuit would be of benefit? Are you a golfer who spends a considerable amount of time in wind noise, perhaps a “e-wind noise reduction” feature that reduces these sounds automatically as the speed of the wind increases will give you that competitive edge! Making sure your hearing health care provider understands your needs is important. Do not let him/her know after the fact! Be up front with your needs. Doing so can only lead to better hearing aid satisfaction and outcomes.
At this point in the discussion, ask about the price of the hearing aid that you are considering - and get that price in writing. Do not feel pressured. Someone who quotes you one price, and then offers you a discount "if you buy the hearing aids right now most often do not respect “your interests”." Make sure that the price you are quoted will remain the same for an established period of time - you should be able to leave the office to think about your purchase and return at a later time when you are ready to buy hearing aids at the quoted price within the given time period.
When you buy hearing aids, it is also important to find out about any warranties offered. Ask how long the warranty lasts and what it covers. Find out how much it costs to extend the warranty beyond its initial coverage period, and whether the warranty covers repairs only, or whether it also covers loss or remakes for fitting problems. Ask to have the entire warranty explained to you in detail until you feel comfortable that you understand what is being offered.
In addition, you should ask what happens when your warranty expires. What types of fees will be charged for any repairs when that time period ends? Also find out what type of warranty is given on repairs - ideally you will be given a new six month warranty after any repair is performed. Many manufacturers will charge a flat rate for certain repairs, but may require additional fees if a case needs to be remade or other more complex changes need to be performed. Find out this information before you “buy” your hearing aids.
Return Policies and Restocking Fees
You should also ask about the return-for-credit policy. Most hearing health care providers provide at least 30 days, for any reason at all, and some dispensers will extend this timeframe to 60 days or longer. However, you also need to find out if a restocking fee will be charged if you do decide to make a return. A 10 percent restocking fee may not sound like much, but if the hearing aid costs you $3,000, you will be charged $300 for your return. Look for a hearing health care provider that charges a reasonable fee.