Photo credit: ikesters licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist
Many people with hearing difficulties delay getting help because they’re told hearing aids don’t work. But in my experience, properly fitted hearing aids can improve communication and quality of life for people with hearing difficulties.
Hearing aids are worn on each ear and come in different styles. Prescription hearing aids are selected so amplified sound and chosen features are best for all shapes and sizes of hearing difficulties in all ages. Retail hearing aids are meant for adults with mild to moderate high pitch hearing loss which is a common pattern across causes.
There are different reasons people think hearing aids don’t work. Some issues depend on the hearing aids, while others depend on the person wearing them. Unless there is a health reason that requires that they only wear one, it’s best to get a pair. Like ears, hearing aids should be in pairs for best sound audibility, localization, and communication.
Were the hearing aids fit by a hearing healthcare professional? If yes, then they were chosen to work based on individual testing results and the person’s reported difficult listening situations in daily life. Retail hearing aids won’t work if the wearer doesn’t have mild to moderate high pitch hearing loss.
Do the hearing aids have basic hearing and communication features? Basic or entry level prescription or retail hearing aids should include directional microphones for paired hearing benefits and a telecoil or hearing loop feature. Hearing aids without directional microphones won’t work well in daily life, and hearing aids without hearing loop compatibility won’t work in settings offering disability access.
Do the hearing aids offer modern digital technology? Current entry level features in behind the ear hearing aids, which start at around $1,000 per pair, include more than one listening program for quieter and noisier environments and wireless connectivity to other devices. Some hearing aids include sound therapy for people with tinnitus or decreased sound tolerance, i.e., hyperacusis. Many now have rechargeable batteries with an overnight recharging station which is a plus for convenience and the environment. Old technology hearing aids don’t work nearly as well as modern technology aids.
Were the hearing aids properly manufactured? Even brand new hearing aids can be lemons. While prescription hearing aid manufacturers typically meet international amplification acoustics standards, quality control is voluntary for manufacturers selling directly to the public with no Food and Drug Administration oversight in the U.S. Problems are common even among popular retail manufacturers, with defect rates of 100% for amplification under $150 and 66% defective when under $500 per hearing aid. New amplification sound quality problems include static and distortion, over-amplified or too loud, no high frequency amplification, broken volume control, malfunctioning directional microphones, and faulty telecoils. In my opinion, too many hearing aids sold directly to the public are poorly made and don’t work as advertised.
Does the wearer have hearing system distortion? Some people, especially with a history of noise exposure, have hearing loss with sound processing damage where sound becomes distorted or unclear while travelling up the hearing nerves to the brain. This happens after sound is amplified, meaning people feel their hearing aids don’t work because they still can’t hear or converse easily, especially in ambient environmental noise environments.
Are the hearing aids In-The-Drawer style? ITD style hearing aids worn only seldom or occasionally don’t help much. People with hearing loss need to practice hearing amplified sound again in their daily life. With regular use, people hear better with amplification than without, even in noisy or difficult listening situations.
The next time somebody says hearing aids don’t work, don’t forget there is often more to the story. Did the person get well manufactured hearing aids that meet their individual hearing and communication needs? Do they have realistic expectations of hearing aids? If not, a visit to a hearing healthcare professional could be helpful for problem-solving and guidance.
Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.