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Choosing a Hearing Aid

Hearing problems are accepted as part of the aging process. Just about two-thirds of Americans who are 70 and older have experienced some hearing loss. One-fifth of those people use hearing aids.

Think about that for a moment. Only one-fifth of the people who have experienced hearing loss in their golden years actually use hearing aids. This is serious business, because the remaining four-fifths, who have not taken steps to improve or treat their hearing situations, may suffer from loneliness and isolation, at a minimum. The National Institute on Aging has found that people with hearing loss are much more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Even mild hearing loss can double the risk for dementia.

If you’re reading this, and you are experiencing hearing loss in your 70s or 80s, maybe now might be a good time to look into hearing aids. Where to start is a great question. There are several different kinds of hearing aids to choose from, each with pros and cons as far as their use go.

First, there is the behind the ear (BTE) type of hearing aid. These use a plastic tube through which sound travels to a custom ear mold. These are larger, easier to manipulate and last longer. They can accommodate directional microphones and volume control. As far as cons go, they are difficult for phone use. They can range in price from $1,200-2,700.

The mini behind the ear model (Mini BTE) uses a plastic tube that connects to an earbud inside the ear canal. This model leaves the ear canal open for a more natural sound. There is no custom mold required. They are also difficult to use with the telephone. They range in price from $1,300-3,000.

The receiver in the canal (RIC) model has a microphone and amplifier behind the ear that are connected to a receiver in an earbud or in a custom mold in the canal. These are not very noticeable and give great sound quality. They range in price from $1,400-2,900.

The in-the-ear model (ITE) has a custom made shell that fits in the outer ear. Their size and shape make them easy to use with a directional microphone and volume control. You can also use the telephone easily. They are noticeable and bulky, however. These range in price from $1,300-$2,800.

The in-the-canal (ITC) is also a custom made earpiece that fits into the canal opening. They are barely noticeable, yet large enough for microphones and volume control. They are, however, prone to feedback. These range in price from $1,300-2,800.

A completely in the canal (CIC) model can fit snugly in the ear canal. They aren’t very visible, can easily be used with the phone and they have the advantage of the outer ear acting as a sound funnel. These are expensive, ranging from $1,500-3,700.

There are so many models to choose from that you should really take your time and examine all of your options. Take a friend, caregiver or relative with you, because they can help you sort out all of the information, plus they can help you hear everything. Talk to someone who is an expert in audiology. These individuals hold master’s or doctoral degrees in audiology. You should also consult with your healthcare professional.

You should also have an idea of what you want your hearing device to accomplish. Do you want to hear better in restaurants and in church? Do you want to hear the television better. If you know your priority needs, it will help you figure out which kind of hearing device will be best for you. It is also important to have a hearing test, preferably in a soundproof booth, to let the audiologist know what kind of hearing loss you are experiencing and what kind of device to fit for your specific kind of hearing loss. You can ask the audiologist to demonstrate the different types of hearing devices.

There are all kinds of different kinds of complements to hearing aids that will help you in your experience, but might be quite expensive. So, consider what you really need. If you don’t need advanced features, you can save yourself some money. Make certain to get a signed copy of a contract that outlines what you’re buying, the price, trial period, fees, and warranty. You can expect a 30-60 day trial period and follow-up visits with your audiologist or specialist. Also ask your audiologist about aural education and rehabilitation to help your brain handle what new sound it receives from the hearing device.

Hearing aids are expensive—and 80 percent of wearers need two hearing devices. It is possible to receive a price break through bargaining; however, you should also look into other forms of help, such as medical flexible spending accounts. Medicaid often covers hearing aids, but state requirements can be different. Check the Hearing Loss Association of America’s web site, www.hearingloss.org, to find out state-by-state differences.

Veterans can get hearing aids if their loss can be attributed to their military service. Federal employees and their families are also entitled to coverage through some insurance plans.

The non-profit, Sertoma, helps people with hearing problems and runs a hearing aid recycling program. HEAR Now, sponsored by the Starkey Hearing Foundation can provide hearing aids for people with fixed incomes.

A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.