Hearing Aids and You – An Overview of the Current Position

In an age where technology is changing rapidly, it can be difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction, hype and hope. Due to the complex nature of hearing loss, and people’s desire for a solution to communication problems, any change in hearing aid technology attracts a fair amount of promotion.

Not Your Grandfather’s Hearing Aid, but still no Magic Wand!

To be sure, hearing aids have evolved over the years in some surprising ways. Today’s hearing aids incorporate features such rechargeability, blu-tooth connectivity, water-resistance and machine learning artificial intelligence. Some may even monitor your heart rate, track the number of steps you take and alert loved ones if the wearer has a fall. In addition to these new capabilities, there have also been ongoing improvements in sound quality, noise reduction, cosmetics, comfort and reliability.

Notwithstanding the many benefits these advancements in design and function deliver to the wearer, successful outcomes still depend on key biological indicators, as well as personal and external factors.

Learning to Look Beyond the Marketing

Despite the marketing, not every hearing loss can be helped with a hearing aid, and not every new technology that comes along is proven to be effective in all cases. Unfortunately there may be some out there who will tell you what you want to hear, rather than what you need to know. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So what are the factors that determine your level of success with hearing aids?

Hearing Aid Outcomes:
The benefit you receive from hearing aids largely comes down to the following points:

Your level of need and motivation. Without a clearly defined need, individuals are unlikely to transition beyond sporadic use of hearing aids.

Your age and duration of hearing problems. Older patients generally take longer to adjust to an amplified signal than younger patients due to changes in neural processing.

Your willingness to persevere and accept change. Like any course of ongoing therapy, challenges must be met with determination. Hearing aids are a rehabilitative tool, not an instant fix.

The health of your ear-canals, including susceptibility to wax accumulation and ear infections. Some ears require ongoing medical management to permit successful hearing aid use.

The quality of neural processing in the cochlea and along your central auditory pathways. If there is distortion of the signal along the auditory pathways, performance will be limited, despite the provision of a clear signal into the ear canal.

The care taken by your practitioner to prescribe and fit your hearing aids. Ear canals have different resonant characteristics. Hearing aid settings therefore need to be prescribed and measured on a case by case basis. ‘Best-guess’ or ‘over-the-internet’ programming rarely works for the individual.

Your working memory and other cognitive processes. Effective communication requires a confluence of neural processes beyond hearing, including language, memory and visual contributions. Changes in any of these processes can affect hearing aid outcomes.

Your fine-motor skills and how technically savvy you are. There is a wide array of hearing aid options available today, ranging from simple to complex. You should opt for the solution that is going to cause you the least headache. The most complex or expensive option is not the best choice for all patients.

Access to support services and device maintenance. Hearing aids are finely tuned instruments which spend their time in an environment not particularly well suited to electronics. Perspiration and ear-wax can clog sensitive receivers and microphones. Access to ongoing support services is critical to maintain device performance.

Less important in determining outcomes are the following factors:

The brand of hearing aid you select. Most manufacturers offer a similar range of device options at a similar range of price points. Technologies are for the most part fairly generic and your benefit will be similar across brands and price points. Some manufacturers do offer unique features, but they tend to be of an ancillary nature, rather than direct necessities.

The technology level you choose and the amount of money you spend. Independent studies tend to show only moderate or minor performance variation across technology levels. Premium products are more likely to deliver added listening comfort rather than added speech intelligibility when compared to middle of the road or entry level devices. For the most part, it is your age and type of hearing loss that set the playing field, not how much money you spend.