Tag Archive: hearing aids

A cheaper way to buy hearing aids exists

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Eric Ravenscraft, the New York Times, discusses how tech companies are offering cheaper hearing aids online. For those with hearing loss, this may be great news.

But for those without hearing loss yet, there is a simpler and cheaper solution. Namely, it’s far better to protect your hearing now, because even the best hearing aid isn’t a  replacement for preserved natural hearing.

Noise-induced hearing loss accounts for a lot of hearing loss in the U.S., and it is entirely avoidable.

So remember, if something sounds too loud, it is too loud. If you want to preserve your natural hearing, leave the noisy environment, insert ear plugs, or you’ll need hearing aids later.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

A lament about hearing aids

Jennifer Finney Boylan, The New York Times, wonders: “Glasses Are Cool. Why Aren’t Hearing Aids?

I can answer that for you Jennifer:

Hearing loss is stigmatized and hearing aids are expensive, rarely covered by insurance, and don’t work as well for hearing as glasses work for sight.

In short, there is nothing at all cool about an expensive bit of kit that doesn’t work that well and is assumed to be a device meant only for the elderly.

You’re welcome.

Coping with hearing loss and noisy restaurants is not a game

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from CNN discusses a novel strategy to help people with hearing loss understand speech: a game to train the brain to process speech better.

This is a widely known but poorly understood problem–sometimes called the “Speech in Noise problem”–with people with hearing loss, but it can also affect people with normal or adequate hearing as tested by standard hearing tests (“pure tone audiometry”) who nonetheless can have problems understanding speech.

The problem is worse for those with hearing aids, which is probably why up to 40% of people with hearing aids don’t use them–they just don’t help understand speech in everyday situations. As hearing loss blogger Shari Eberts has written, hearing aids just are not like eyeglasses.

Some research supports a central cause for this, i.e., deficiencies in brain processing of auditory signals as people age. Other research puts the problem in the periphery, i.e., the ear. And the research on hidden hearing loss puts the problem in between, in the nerves connecting the ear to the brain. Most likely the explanation involves all three.

Even though the computer game reported in this story may eventually help people who struggle to understand speech, dealing with hearing loss and noisy restaurants isn’t a game.

The real answer isn’t brain training. It’s quieter restaurants, stores, and other public places.

Quieter indoor places will not only help those who already have hearing loss understand speech, they will prevent hearing loss in those still with good hearing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

A lowly fly may offer hope to hearing loss sufferers

Photo credit: Jpaur licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

And Michelle Pucci, TVO, tells us how in her article, “How a tiny fly on a treadmill could lead to better hearing aids.” Pucci introduces us to the research team studying the ormia ochracea, a small fly that is drawn to “crickets’ singing, but no one quite knows how it manages to pick out that sound amid the cacophony of the natural world and locate it so precisely.” Why is this important?  Because if researchers can determine how the fly “pinpoints individual sounds in a noisy setting,” writes Pucci, “it could help solve the so-called cocktail party problem — the one that makes it tough for your grandmother to hear what you’re saying at family functions (and causes her to shout at you), because her hearing aid picks up too much background noise.”

Andrew Mason, a biologist at the University of Toronto explains that the fly’s “eardrums work like a scale, and incoming noises tip the balance.” Unlike humans, the fly’s “eardrums are connected — which Mason says could explain why the fly tries to interpret the different levels of sound it receives in both ears.”  Humans, on the other hand, can “locate and isolate the sounds they want to listen to, even in noisy environments, if the sources are far enough away from one another.”

The problem hearing aid wearers experience is that “it’s impossible to focus on a single conversation in a noisy room…because hearing aids trick the ear into thinking all those sounds are the same distance away.” That is, the hearing aid amplifies everything, making the task of concentrating on one conversation among many impossible. As researchers learn more about the ormia ochracea’s excellent sound-location abilities, engineers have used that knowledge.  Today, mics in some hearing aid design “mimic the fly’s ear structure,” and “research groups around the world are working on hearing aids that would allow the wearer to home in on different frequencies.”

So why do ormia ochracea search for crickets?  The answer is pretty grim:

[T]he female deposits its spawn inside the crickets, who sing when looking for a mate. Black-striped larvae then hatch inside the doomed cricket and scrape at its innards for 10 days…before “bursting out of the side like in Alien.”

The high cost of hearing aids might be coming down

Photo credit: ReSound licensed under CC BY 3.0

Paula Span, the New York Times, writes about legislation making its way through Congress that could make hearing aids cheaper and more accessible. Currently, people needing hearing aids must spend at least $1,500 to $2,000 per hearing aid–double that for a pair–because the price includes bundled audiology services. But under the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, the Food and Drug Administration would be charged with creating “a regulatory category for [over-the-counter] devices and to establish standards for safety, effectiveness and labeling.”

One reason hearing aids would be significantly cheaper if this bill is enacted is that consumers would not have to go to an audiologist to get them, as they are required to do today. Rather, consumers could opt to purchase audiology services to help adjust each device, but they wouldn’t be required to do so.

And lowering the cost is important as hearing aid wearers tend to be older and “Medicare coverage of hearing aids [is] prohibited by law.” But can consumers adequately adjust their own hearing aids? Swan reports on an Indiana University double-blind clinical trial where researchers worked with participants who never wore hearing aids before. The researchers “compared the experiences of those randomly assigned to full-bore audiology services and those making over-the-counter selections,” and determined that “[i]t didn’t matter whether the audiologist fitted them or the consumer made his own choice…[t]hey both were effective, and they didn’t differ.” Given that hearing loss has a profound effect on overall health and not just hearing health, providing a low-cost option to seniors makes a lot of sense.

But Daniel Fink, MD, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, says that hearing aids do not work as well as people may suspect, which is why many people who have them rarely use them. Rather than focusing all of our attention and resources on treating hearing loss after it occurs, Dr. Fink believes we should also be focusing our efforts on preventing hearing loss in the first instance. As Dr. Fink notes, noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, and we could greatly diminish the instances of these disorders by reasonably regulating noise and making people aware that loud sound today means hearing loss tomorrow.

The problems with hearing aids

Photo credit: Steve Johnson licensed under CC by 2.0

and the solutions. Manfred starts her piece with a stunning statistic: “A whopping 80 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 74 who would benefit from a hearing aid do not use them.”  Why? For a variety of reasons: discomfort, disappointment with the sound quality, difficulty in using them, expense, and a fear of “wear[ing] something associated with ‘old.’” But what these people don’t realize, Manfred writes, is “the profound damage that uncorrected hearing loss can do to your physical, emotional and cognitive health.”

Click the link to read about the effect of hearing loss on the brain–it’s profound–and read Manfred’s responses to the various excuses people give for not getting a pair of hearing aids.  As she notes, they aren’t perfect, but it’s better to deal with little imperfection than the consequences of not wearing them.

Have a friend or family member who is showing signs of hearing loss?

In “Hearing loss: Listening to the signs,” Treva Lind, The Spokesman Review, writes about the 37.5 million Americans who have some degree of hearing loss, focusing on the baby boomers who are 20 to 25% of that population.  Lind states that “[t]he American Speech-Language Hearing Association recommends that people age 50 and older have a hearing test every three years.”  She sits in on a hearing exam for 67-year-old Dale Fowler, who came to the University Hearing and Speech Clinic in Spokane, Washington to see if he needed a hearing aid, a visit scheduled at the urging of family members.  Fowler’s exam revealed that he “had some minor hearing loss at high frequencies in one ear, but it wasn’t enough to warrant a hearing aid.”  Fowler’s audiologist, Barbara Peregoy, said that his result was “common among baby boomers.”

Peregoy said that baby boomers often fall into a “gray area,” where they don’t yet need hearing aids but still have some minor hearing loss.  She then explained why people who need hearing aids don’t get them right away (cost, denial, vanity, or fear of appearing older) and the consequences of not addressing hearing loss, noting that hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia.  As for her patient Dale Fowler, although he left without a hearing aid, he did not leave empty-handed–Peregoy handed him a list of good communication skills to help him deal with his minor hearing loss.

Click the link above to read the whole piece, including Barbara Peregoy’s “Ten commandments for good communication skills.”

 

 

Cheaper and better hearing aids are coming:

Why isn’t there a Warby Parker for hearing aids?  Sean Captain, writing for Fast Company, looks at the current market for hearing aids, a market that is dominated by six companies charging anywhere from $4,500 and upward a pair–out of reach for most people who need them–and the new players who are shaking up this industry.  First, Captain introduces us to “Audra Renyi, a 34-year-old former investment banker who’s been a hearing care advocate since 2007, [who] is launching a company called Hearing Access World that aims to cut the price of hearing aids by 75%.”   He writes:

Renyi knows her market well as executive director of World Wide Hearing. The Montreal-based nonprofit provides testing and low-cost hearing aids in poor countries like Guatemala and Vietnam. She hopes to bring prices down globally by playing directly in the market with her new social venture.

Interestingly, there are other players interested in this market who aren’t from the nonprofit world, namely tech startups. These startups are avoiding the cost, in both time and legal fees, they would have to bear navigating the Food and Drug Administration for approval of a new hearing device by selling their products as consumer electronic components.  Captain reports that:

While hearing aid sales are minuscule, consumer electronics companies are selling hundreds of millions of audio devices, such as Bluetooth headsets, that do many of the same things. Mass-market CE components are going into devices called personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, which have become unofficial budget hearing aids.

Captain looks at one startup offering a PSAP, Doppler Labs.  Doppler Labs started out with a Kickstarter campaign for their product Here Active Listening, a $249 set of AI-driven wireless earbuds.  The earbuds “recognize and filter ambient sounds, such as bringing down background noise in a subway or boosting voices during a conversation, [and a] smartphone app lets users pick filters and effects (like simulating the ambience of a concert hall), adjust volume, and tweak a five-band equalizer.”  Doppler Labs is coming out with a new product, HERE One, which is shipping in time for the 2016 holiday season.

Captain reviewed the then current model of HERE One and had some reservations, but he didn’t have the opportunity to review the latest iteration and the Doppler spokeswoman offered that he may have needed different sized tips to better fit his ear canals.  Long and short, PSAPs are in their infancy, but the future looks promising for them and us.  As Captain states:

As consumer electronics companies nudge into the hearing-aid space with PSAPs, and as hearing-aid companies nudge into the CE space, a new wearable tech category may be emerging. Called “hearables” by their boosters, the gadgets could encompass a range of over-the-counter, in-ear devices that allow people to hear better—either by making up for diagnosed hearing deficiency or tweaking how live music and voices sound.

In the end, people with hearing loss who have been denied access to hearing aids due to their prohibitive cost should very soon be able to purchase reasonably priced PSAPs that will give them some relief.  While it would be better, of course, for everyone with hearing loss to be properly fitted with hearing aids that are adjusted by audiologists, this cheaper alternative addresses a critical need now.  For those who feel isolated by hearing loss, PSAPs will be a godsend.

Click this link for the full article to read about the full range of products and services that are or will be available shortly.

Protect your hearing now, because hearing aids leave a lot to be desired.

Shari Eberts writes about living with hearing loss.  Unlike many people with hearing loss, Shari’s loss is genetic and not noise-induced.  There currently is no cure for hearing loss and the only treatment is a hearing aid.  Shari explains why hearing aids are an imperfect treatment in Ten Reasons Hearing Aids Are NOT Like Glasses.