The Truth About Hearing Aids
Currently, it is estimated that 1 in 5 adults need hearing aids. For adults above the age of 55, this figure is probably closer to about 1 in 3. If you are unsure whether hearing aids are appropriate for you, the first thing you should do is meet with an audiologist. This person is responsible for guiding you to better hearing and reconnecting you with the world around you. The audiologist’s job is to find the perfect hearing aid based on your preferences, lifestyle, medical history, budget, and diagnostic exam results.
Why is partnering with the right audiologist so important?
Audiologists must have extensive education (Masters in Science and/or Doctorate of Audiology) and licensing to earn their credentials. This is important because a thorough hearing test is essential to properly diagnose and treat an individual’s hearing loss. If the hearing test is subpar or incomplete, the hearing aid fitting can be a disaster. Improper amplification is when hearing aids are set too loud or too quiet, causing poor sound quality. This is the number one reason patients are dissatisfied with hearing aids.
Generally speaking, hearing aids are ideal for individuals whose hearing issues are related to problems within the inner ear. These problems can potentially be triggered by aging, exposure to loud noises, ototoxic medications, and many different diseases. In addition to hearing aids, your audiologist might also recommend supplementary treatments, such as sound therapy.
Three benefits to seeking help from an audiologist for hearing loss
- Reduce the risk of missing a serious underlying health condition that is causing a person’s hearing loss (i.e., acoustic neuroma). Completing a hearing health evaluation is a critical first step.
- Not all hearing aid options are appropriate for all types and degrees of hearing loss. Fortunately, an audiologist can provide a recommendation to minimize the options and confusion around what style, technology level, and price range is appropriate based on the patient’s case history and hearing test results.
- Adapting to amplification for hearing loss is a process. Much like physical therapy where a professional relationship is the key to success. Several follow-up visits during the initial adaptation period are necessary to ensure the physical fit and sound settings are comfortable and adequately address the hearing loss.
Does my audiologist use Real Ear Measures (REM) to verify my prescription after I have time to adapt to them?
REM, or a Conformity Evaluation, is the “Gold Standard” among audiologists to verify that a hearing device is set and fitting correctly to meet prescriptive targets for soft, average, and loud sounds. Since no two ears are the same, a REM test is essential to determine if the hearing instruments are performing optimally for each individual’s hearing loss.
Once you choose the right audiologist, you can start the process of choosing hearing aids that meet your expectations for sound quality, comfort, customization, ease of use, and flexibility.
When determining which hearing aid you need, start with these questions:
Do I care if people can see a small electronic device behind my ear, or do I want something that is completely invisible?
Hardly anyone will notice a RIC (Receiver-In-The-Canal Hearing Aid) that fits behind your ear. RICs typically offer advantages such as directional microphones to deal with background noise, and they typically are available with recharge-ability. If you want something that no one besides your audiologist can see, you might like Lyric. This tiny, semi-implantable medical device fits deep in the ear canal 24/7 allowing the outer ear (the pinna) to direct sound into the ear canal naturally. Of course, there are CIC (Completely-In-The-Canal) and IIC (Invisible-In-The-Canal) styles available as explained further down this page.
Do I want my hearing aids to do everything for me?
- Do I want my hearing aids to automatically adjust to noisy environments?
- Do I want to be able to manually control my hearing aids?
- Do I want to be able to turn the volume up and down when listening in a specific direction?
The tiny computer chip inside every hearing aid functions inconceivably fast. Input from directional microphones, Bluetooth streaming, and in some cases sensors for heartbeat and fall detection send electrical signals with lightning speed to this microchip to interpret, decipher, and pass along to your auditory nerve. These chips are now fast enough to be fully automatic with premium technology or adjustable by the patient using remote control buttons or “app” controls with basic and advanced technology.
What type of hearing loss do I have?
The severity of your hearing loss will influence which hearing device is right for you. The options for moderate hearing loss versus profound hearing loss vary significantly due to power requirements.
Do I want a rechargeable hearing aid battery?
Thanks to recent advancements in Lithium-Ion battery technology, hearing aid wearers enjoy a much better rechargeable battery life and speed when recharging. There are still a few hearing aids without a rechargeable option because of size or power requirements.
Do I have the vision and manual dexterity to change tiny hearing aid batteries?
Even people with normal vision have trouble changing tiny hearing aid batteries. Those with poor vision and/or arthritis really struggle. In these cases, we typically recommend a rechargeable option. Another option is Lyric extended wear devices because they stay in the ear day and night with no batteries to change.
Do I want to be able to stream music and phone calls to my hearing aids via a wireless connection?
Among the special features in most hearing aids is Bluetooth compatibility. Not only is it super cool, but this function helps people hear much clearer over the phone. Why? Because the signal is delivered to both ears instead of just one. Binaural listening and hands-free calls are benefits that many of our patients truly appreciate.
Why do you need a hearing aid?
Improved Mental Health
Diminished hearing makes life more challenging. Besides interfering with your daily routine and ability to communicate, untreated hearing loss may lead to reduced mental health. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) found that depression was more common in individuals with hearing loss than those without it, affecting up to 11 percent of hearing loss sufferers.
Luckily, hearing aids can help. According to a survey conducted by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), individuals with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report feelings of depression compared to those with hearing aids.
Improved Motor Function
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that hearing loss contributes to a significantly higher fall risk, which is one reason why devices like hearing aids are so important. By improving your auditory abilities, hearing aids free up your brain to focus more on walking, balancing, and other motor functions.
It takes a significant amount of brain function to move effectively. These motor functions are especially important as we age and become more prone to injuries from falls and other accidents. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in older Americans.
Reduced Risk of Memory Loss
Hearing aids can also reduce the risk of memory loss and dementia. There is significant evidence that untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline, often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. That’s a scary statistic for many reasons, especially since Alzheimer’s-related deaths increased by 89 percent between 2000 and 2014.
However, hearing aids can reduce the risk of dementia. According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, “the relative risk of being diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, within three years of a hearing loss diagnosis was 18% lower for hearing aid users.”
Improved Emergency Response
We’re constantly surrounded by safety or danger indicators like cars honking, people yelling, dogs barking, smoke alarms blaring, and ambulances wailing. All of these sounds alert us during emergencies, allowing us to react accordingly.
Unfortunately, when we’re dealing with hearing loss, we might not be able to protect ourselves. In an emergency, hearing clearly could mean the difference between life and death.
For a helpful list of home adaptations for people with hearing loss and other health concerns, click here.
At Sound Relief, we have found that when someone in the family has hearing loss, the whole family has a hearing problem. Unfortunately, the negative effects on relationships extend far beyond the home and spill over into work and friends. Usually, the person with hearing loss is the last one to realize they are struggling.
How do hearing aids work?
Keeping in mind the three primary components of hearing aids mentioned above (microphone, amplifier, receiver), Johns Hopkins describes the way hearing aids work in a simple, three-step process: “The microphone receives sound and converts it into a digital signal, the amplifier increases the strength of the digital signal, [and the receiver] produces the amplified sound into the ear.”
The end result, if the hearing aids are properly calibrated, will be a sound that is crisper, clearer, louder, and easier to interpret. Unlike the reading glasses that you might purchase at the drug store, there are no specific hearing aids that are designed to treat all—or even most—people who are suffering from hearing loss. In order to maximize the effectiveness of your hearing aids, you will need to first meet with an audiologist who is able to program the hearing aids to your prescriptive targets based on the degree of hearing loss present.
Common Hearing Aid Styles:
Daily Wear Hearing Aids
Daily wear hearing aids are primarily for use during the day and removed before bed. There are three basic styles of daily wear hearing aids: behind-the-ear, in-the-ear, and canal. They differ in size, placement, and the degree to which they amplify sound.
Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids
Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids consist of a hard plastic case worn behind the ear and connected to a plastic ear mold that fits inside the outer ear. The electronic parts are held in the case behind the ear, and sound travels from the hearing aid through the earmold and into the ear. People of all ages use BTE hearing aids to assist with mild to profound hearing loss.
The open-fit hearing aid is a new-ish kind of BTE device. These tiny and discreet, open-fit hearing aids are positioned completely behind the ear. A narrow tube inserted into the ear canal enables the canal to remain open. For this reason, open-fit hearing aids are often a good choice for people who deal with frequent earwax buildup. Additionally, some people prefer open-fit hearing aids because they don’t cause the overall feeling of being “plugged up.”
In-the-Ear Hearing Aids
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids, for mild to severe hearing loss, fit completely inside the outer ear. A custom-fit case made of hard plastic holds the electronic components, so they are not ideal for young, growing children.
Some ITE hearing aids contain added features, like telecoils. A telecoil is a small magnetic coil that allows users to receive sound through their hearing devices’ circuitry instead of a microphones. This makes it easier to hear on the telephone and in public places with loop systems. Induction loop systems are special sound systems that use a magnetic field to transmit audio signals. Many schools, airports, churches, and auditoriums have installed induction loop systems.
Canal Hearing Aids
Canal hearing aids, which fit into the ear canal, are available in two styles. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids are made to fit the size and shape of a person’s ear canal. Completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aids, on the other hand, are completely hidden within the ear canal. Some newer models are nearly invisible. Regardless of which device you choose, you want a great audiologist to help you find the perfect fit.
Both types assist with mild to moderately severe hearing loss. Although many appreciate their inconspicuously small size, others find the tiny devices difficult to remove and manipulate. In addition, their limited space does not accommodate telecoils or larger batteries. This limits their power and volume, so they are not typically recommended for young children or people with severe hearing loss.
Digital Hearing Aids
If you haven’t seen hearing aids up close recently, you should. Hearing instruments look, feel, and work completely different than just 10 years ago. Some are so small that they are virtually invisible. Others produce such natural sound that they mimic the way you heard sounds before experiencing hearing loss. Currently, we believe that the top 5 manufacturers that are outperforming all others are Widex, Oticon, Starkey, Phonak, and ReSound. These manufacturers use superior technology to design custom devices, and they also test their products extensively before releasing them to the public.
Digital Hearing Aid Features
- Dual Microphones: Dual and directional microphones allow you to hear well in noisy situations. Some devices can even identify the source of a noise and reduce it!
- Open Technology: Open technology keeps the ear canal unobstructed, which eliminates that hollow, booming, “talking in a barrel” effect.
- Feedback Cancellation: This feature accomplishes exactly what it says it will. It cancels feedback before you hear it as an annoying whistle.
- Hands-Free Technology: With hands-free technology, your hearing aid will automatically adjust to your listening environment whether you’re on the phone, in a crowd, or out on a windy day.
- Computer Programming: You can program your devices with a computer to ensure that it meets your individualized needs over time.
- Bluetooth Technology: Bluetooth technology allows you to hear your cell phone directly through your hearing aids in stereo. It also allows for “app control” or the ability to self-adjust the devices through a remote control “app” specific to each manufacturer.
Digital Hearing Aid Technology Levels
There are four basic technology levels of digital hearing aid technology: economy, basic, advanced, and premium. Typically, economy hearing aids increase the volume of sounds but do not analyze the sounds or recognize the environment. Basic hearing aids are a notable step up, offering directional microphones, noise control, and feedback cancellation. Advanced hearing aids include additional technology that assists with noise control and speech enhancement (including automatic features). Plus, you can fine-tune them for optimal, personalized results. Finally, premium digital hearing aids offer the best hearing performance available today, providing exceptional sound quality in difficult listening environments.
Unlike most audiology practices, Sound Relief Tinnitus & Hearing Center stocks many different hearing aids from many different manufacturers, so that our patients can try the devices outside of the office for a few days. Before choosing which device you like, we encourage you to try them at home and work and evaluate how they complement your lifestyle. To schedule a field trial without any obligations, schedule an appointment online, or give us a call.
Made-for-iPhone Hearing Devices
We also offer hearing instruments that you can combine with sound therapy for tinnitus treatment and sync with your iPhone including several ReSound products. Though small, these devices are powerful and very easy to use. Please visit our Resound hearing aids page to learn more.
Extended Wear Hearing Aids:
Unlike daily wear devices, extended-wear hearing aids can be worn for several months at a time without removal. They reside deep within the ear canal and suit people with mild to moderately-severe hearing loss.
Lyric: A Revolution in Hearing Technology
Sound Relief Tinnitus & Hearing Center is proud to be one of the select offices in the United States to offer Lyric. It is the only extended-wear hearing aid that is 100% invisible. We position Lyric completely inside the ear canal, where it uses the ear’s natural anatomy to funnel sound to the eardrum. This unique design and placement helps reduce background noise and feedback, providing exceptionally natural sound quality.
Lyric is not appropriate for all patients. To find out if you could benefit from Lyric, schedule a screening and risk-free trial with Sound Relief Tinnitus & Hearing Center by contact us online or give us a call at (720) 344-7600.
Learn more by visiting our Lyric hearing page.
Schedule a Consultation Today
If you are new to the world of tinnitus and hearing loss, we understand that you may find the plethora of options overwhelming. Would you benefit from a behind-the-ear hearing aid? What about an in-the-ear or in-the-canal device? Could Lyric be the right choice for you? Instead of trying to sift through the options on your own, consult with an expert. To get started, please schedule an appointment with Sound Relief Hearing Center today. Our audiologists can help you find a device that fits your level of hearing loss, positioning preference, and budget.