Hearing Aids and You – An Overview of the Current Position
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.
Doing Your Due Diligence and Being An Informed Consumer
Your hearing is precious and hearing problems should be afforded the same medical care as any other aspect of your health. If you had a problem with your eyesight, would you go to someone who had not attended university or college?
Some things to consider before committing to any course of action.
University graduate or marketer? Without an in-depth knowledge of the neurophysiology of hearing, your consultant may be as convinced by the marketing hype as any private citizen. This is not someone you want to rely on for advice when you are spending your hard-earned money.
Free hearing check or a full investigation into the nature of your hearing difficulties? Without a thorough look into the cause of your hearing problems, how can you be advised whether hearing aids are truly necessary, or whether medical intervention is more appropriate? Moreover, a complete and thorough investigation of your hearing is the foundation for all advice that follows. Poor testing generally leads to poor advice.
Do the maths. Basic arithmetic informs us, if a clinic is giving away their time for free, the cost must be recovered elsewhere. How else are staff and other overheads paid? If you test 20 people for free, and only one person proceeds to purchase hearing aids, who do you think will bear the cost of those 20 “free” assessments?
Manufacturer’s outlet or an independent clinic? Being able to select the right hearing solution for your needs sometimes means thinking outside the square. Does your provider have access to the most appropriate solution for your needs? Is your consultant under pressure to sell a monthly quota?
Avoiding Common Sales Tactics
Sales tactics are a reality of life. What may seem like a great offer on the surface, can sometimes work out quite the opposite. The hearing industry in no different. Special offers and marketing hype can be heavy handed when it comes to getting you in the door. Be alert to the following:
Free hooks and lures that can mask heavy margins on device purchases.
Marketing hype that glosses over the irrevocable truth of your situation and your hearing problem.
Limited offers that might only be limited to the number of people who walk through the door.
Free clean and check services that may be nothing more than a ploy to get you in and sell you up on something new.
Time for Industry to Respond to Criticisms
The hearing sector has come under the spotlight of Government, the ACCC and various media investigations in recent times, with some unflattering findings of questionable tactics and spurious claims. It is time for all providers of hearing services to be guided by a code of ethics if not by an internal moral compass in a landscape where government regulation still does not exist in the private sector. Perhaps one day quality of service and advice will be the drivers of success rather than these long-in-the tooth sales tactics, which prey on people’s ignorance and hopes. Hearing aids can substantially improve quality of life for many individuals. That fact should be allowed to take centre stage, rather than the renewed need to criticize industry tactics.
Ask your GP, Family Member or Friends about Amplex
At Amplex we expend our efforts towards educating our patients about the true nature of any hearing deficit and the benefits and limitations of currently available technologies. We also advise patients of potential medical intervention where an ear disorder is identified. We have built a thriving practice on the basis or word-of-mouth referrals and reputation among the referring medical community, not through free hooks, lures or outlandish claims.
A Website worth Reading
Audiologist and practice owner, Dr Daniel Mestric has spent over 20 years educating patients about hearing and hearing disorders. See our website for a wealth of information, without the product based hype, trade-in deals or free offers. Choice Magazine also has some informative articles relating to hearing aids and the hearing sector on their website. Independent Audiologists of Australia can also help you navigate some of the pitfalls of the hearing sector. See their website for more information.