Dr. Towers is uniquely qualified to answer this common question, due to his previous experience working for one of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers in Copenhagen, Denmark. Yes, hearing aids can be expensive, but there is always a range of technology available depending on your hearing loss, lifestyle and budget.
The reason hearing aids are expensive really comes down to two factors: research and development (R&D) and economy of scale. Simply put, hearing aids are sophisticated computer devices that require tens of millions of dollars annually to become better than the previous generation's capabilities and therefore patient success and satisfaction. What’s more is that compared to other technologies, such as laptop computers, there are simply fewer sold in the year worldwide. For that reason each hearing aid has to cost that much more to recoup the investment in R&D.
There are a few things you want to ask your provider before investing your time and money. You will want to know if the person is licensed in the Province of Alberta. This is not a business license. This is a license to practice and perform health related procedures regulated by the Health Professions Act. You will want to know what credentials that clinician has. If they are a Hearing Aid Practitioner, they should have a 2 year diploma. If they are an Audiologist, they should have at least a Master’s degree (6 years) or a Doctor of Audiology degree (8-9 years).
You will want to know what the clinic policies are relative to service, returns, trial periods, etc. Any reputable clinic will never ask you to “sign off” or agree to keeping a hearing aid device that you are not satisfied with. Don’t sign the dotted line until you are satisfied with the benefit you are receiving.
Lastly, you should feel that you are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. This is not an easy process for you and the clinician should be able to help you and coach you through every step of the process. You should think of what you are doing as an investment in a relationship with your Audiologist, rather than a retail transaction to purchase a device. Truly, who you see is far more important than the device you get.
Unfortunately, this has been historically true and continues to be the number one complaint of people who wear hearing aids. The truth is, if hearing aids could filter noise and only let speech through, we would all wear them in the same way we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes from light. The truth is that hearing aids don’t work that way. In normal hearing humans, performance in background noise actually happens in the brain and brainstem, not the ears. So our goal in fitting hearing aids should be to do so in a clear and simple way to give the brain that ability once again. Unfortunately, some hearing aids are better able to do that than others and in general the more advanced (and higher cost) technology will perform better in those difficult situations. As I always say to my patients, “biology is better than technology.” We need to preserve what normal hearing we have.
It probably has a lot to do with the question above in many cases, but I prefer to break it down to the variables we can control. Those variables are the people involved, as well as the technology. As your Audiologist, it is my duty to do everything in my power and knowledge to help you choose the right technology and make it work the best it possibly can for you. Your job is to work with me, following my suggestions and have patience and perseverance. Those qualities will serve you well because succeeding with hearing aids is a process, not an instant fix. Usually when people don’t wear their hearing aids, it is a breakdown of one of those factors, the Audiologist, the patient or the technology.
Again, this gets back to an earlier question about background noise. Recall that performance in background noise happens in the brain, not the ear. But in order for the brain to perform those functions, you need to have equal input from both ears. If we do that, your brain calculates very quickly where you are in space and what is around you and where it is. If your brain can do that, you will have an easier time identifying what you want to listen to and what you don’t. If we only use one hearing aid (sometimes it’s all we can do) we can predict the problems that will be experienced. Usually they will be difficulty in background noise and difficulty in figuring out where sound is coming from.
There are a few different implants in use in the world of Audiology. One is cochlear implantation, which is reserved for people that have hearing loss to the degree that hearing aids are no longer helpful. The other common one is a bone-anchored hearing aid which is used for specific kinds of hearing loss.
We always put health care ahead of hearing aids, but sometimes they are one in the same. The purpose of the complete audiologic examination is more than just trying to find out how to fit a hearing aid. What we are really looking for is any sign that your particular problem might be medically or surgically treatable. If it is, or if we suspect the possibility, we will ALWAYS refer you back to your family physician or Ear/Nose/Throat surgeon to explore those possibilities before considering hearing aids or any other treatment. Unfortunately, when it comes to factors related to noise exposure, age, etc. surgery is often not an option and hearing aids become the best options for hearing better.
In my experience, this is rare, though it can happen. What is more common is that the hearing aid can actually provide some relief for tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Our first order of business though is to try to rule out the cause of the tinnitus. This may be a review of your medications, to a complete Audiology exam to a visit with the ENT (ear, nose and throat surgeon). In many cases, it is nothing more than a side effect of the damage to the ear from noise, age, etc. When this is the case, and no medical treatment is recommended, we explore technology that can help the hearing loss first and tinnitus second.
Simply put, no. The goal of fitting hearing aids is not to make your hearing normal. As I always say, “biology is better than technology.” We can’t replace what was once normal hearing. Instead, our goal is to make your hearing considerably better. We want you to do better with hearing aids than without. We want to improve your quality of life and relationships with others. If we can achieve that, then we view it as a successful venture.
It is true that greater degrees of hearing loss provide a different set of challenges for us and we may have to adjust our expectations of what we view to be satisfactory. Again though, it is incumbent upon me as your Audiologist, to have that discussion with you to talk about what realistic expectations should be for your case. Always keep in mind though that our goal is to be significantly better with hearing aids than without. There are always options for you, even if the best option is just to get the right answers from an excellent Audiologist.
Again, much like the above question, this may be true in some cases, but the goal remains the same. We want to improve your quality of life. This is the best thing about risk free trial periods. You don’t have to assume anymore. You can try the hearing aid for a period of time to see if we are achieving that goal of improving your quality of life and relationships. If we don’t achieve the goal, the result is simple…..return the hearing aid with no cost to you and we monitor your hearing annually to make sure we are aware of any changes.
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