Currently, about 37 million Americans are affected by some form of hearing loss – from slight impairment to complete deafness. Of that staggering number, only about one-fourth of those individuals actually utilize hearing aids to overcome this challenge. Among the top reasons for not choosing a hearing aid: the unwillingness to admit the disability and the high cost associated with the devices.
The costs for a hearing aid range from $1400 to $5000 each, according to the Hearing Loss Association (a consumer advocacy group). The market is now made up of almost all digital hearing devices which receive sound via a small microphone, process the sounds digitally using a microchip, then amplify the sound, sending it to the recipient’s ear. These are a far cry from the analog hearing aids of old, which did little more for the recipient than amplify the sound and allow him/her to adjust the volume.
Overcoming hearing loss is such an individual process that the newer, digital devices allow manufacturers to adjust the devices to suit the particular needs of the buyer… and that’s great news. That is due largely to the fact that two people with the exact same level of hearing loss can process sounds entirely differently, making the selection of a hearing aid a very individualized matter. Most hearing loss evaluations are performed by audiologists or by ear, nose and throat specialists. These professionals can often also sell you devices, or recommend you to reputable vendors. If you are having trouble locating an audiologist, the American Academy of Audiologists can connect you with a list of qualified providers.
A basic hearing test includes the following:
- Speech audiometry: The patient repeats words (in silence and noisy backgrounds) to determine how the hearing loss is affecting him or her.
- Pure tone bone conduction audiometry: This test detects where in the ear the hearing loss has occurred, and thus how best to treat the problem.
- Tympanogram: This test determines how well the middle ear hearing system, as well as the eardrum, is working.
- Pure tone air conduction audiometry: This test determines how well the patient actually hears the beeps and tones given.
Once the level of hearing loss is accurately assessed, the hearing specialist should also work to determine your lifestyle, so that the hearing aid chosen will actually fit into your normal daily routine. Your specialist may want to know if you live alone or with others, in a large or small space, if you dine out regularly, if you are often in noisy environments (movies, theater, religious services, etc.), or if you’re a heavy user of your telephone or television.
Before you look into the types of devices available, it is important to note that most medical insurance plans will readily cover the cost of testing, but most will cover little (if any) of the cost for the actual device. If you served in the military, be sure to start with your local Veteran’s Administration’s office, as they have some programs to address hearing loss for vets. Medicare, along with most private insurers and Medicare Advantage plans, exclude the cost of the device with some exceptions for cochlear implants designed to address the most severe of hearing loss concerns. Financial help is available through programs with Lions Club International, the Hearing Loss Association, as well as the Better Hearing Institute.
Hearing aids and their capabilities have come a long way, so ask your vendor about the number of options available (as well as warranties and extra fitting fees, if any). Open fit hearing aids eliminate distractions and echoes, as do the devices outfitted with noise reduction technology. Devices with directional microphones reduce outside distractions and the Bluetooth option allows calls from your cell phone to ring directly to the hearing aid. Of course, today’s digital technology provides all types of options to accommodate your lifestyle.