If you’ve had your hearing aids for a while, are you sure you’re still hearing at your best? Below are common signs that you may need a new hearing aid.
Here are eight issues to consider when deciding whether it’s time for a new hearing aid. Some may be obvious, others less so. But if one or more ring true, talk to your hearing healthcare provider about your options.
- The age of your current hearing aids. Most hearing aids last five to seven years. Manufacturers usually stop making parts for hearing aids after about five years, so older hearing aids are repaired at an “all make” repair facility, often with used parts. The older the hearing aid, the less likely it’s performing as well as it should. Although I recently was able to help a patient get 12-year-old devices to work again, I could not guarantee the hearing aid would still be working a month later. Like other technology, hearing aids are rapidly advancing while also becoming less expensive. You can purchase a lower-priced hearing aid today with a wider frequency response and better fidelity than even a premium-level hearing aid bought just a year ago.However, be wary of hearing aid dispensers who say your current hearing aid is too broken or old to repair. (They may only profit from sales of new hearing aids.) Unless it’s more than six years old, any hearing aid from any manufacturer should be repairable.
- A change in health or dexterity. Are you having new health issues that a new hearing aid may help you better handle? If you are unable to hold or change the battery in your current hearing aids because of arthritis, numbness in your fingers, or dexterity problems, you may want to consider a device with a rechargeable battery, which may need to be changed as infrequently as once a year. Siemens, Rexton, and Hansaton all have options compatible with rechargeable batteries. If you are more forgetful than you used to be, consider a hearing aid that intuitively adjusts to your environment so you don’t have to remember which programming button to push. One new hearing aid, the Siemens Micon, can even determine when you’ve entered a car. It will automatically reduce car noise and boost speech so you can hear people seated next to or behind you. Some of my patients with dementia and memory problems use extended-wear devices that stay in the ear for months at a time. Inserted nonsurgically, they eliminate the risk of losing the device and the need to change batteries. If you use an oxygen pump, consider a custom one- piece hearing aid to prevent it from falling out. Also, the noise from an oxygen pump may necessitate a hearing aid with improved noise-reduction capabilities.
- Your hearing has worsened. Just as it takes some time to recognize your hearing loss in the first place, a change in your hearing or ability to fully understand sounds may also go unnoticed. I often have patients complaining their hearing aids just don’t work as well as they used to, but after testing we discover that the devices are fine—it’s their hearing that has dropped a few frequencies. Usually the solution involves a visit to your hearing professional for some fine-tuning, but if your hearing has dropped significantly, you may need to consider a stronger or higher-fidelity device.
- A new job or office. If you have a hearing loss, a new job may be just as stress-filled as it is exciting. Work with your human resources manager to see what the company can do to help. It is your right, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, to expect that your employer make reasonable changes to accommodate hearing loss, which also helps ensure that you can work to your full potential. I recently helped a patient choose the best cubicle in a new office—that is, the one with the least background noise. She also opted to get a new set of midlevel hearing aids. She said, “The new hearing aids are making a huge difference at work. In fact, they may have saved my job.” (For more about handling workplace noise, see “Office Space,” page 34.)
- Different hobbies or lifestyle. What do woodworking, snorkeling, and horseback riding all
have in common? They can all wreak havoc on hearing aids. Thankfully, today’s hearing aids are often water-, dust-, and shockproof. Plus, they are available at all hearing aid levels and price points.
- A boost in finances. If in the past you needed to choose a more economical option, consider an upgrade if your financial situation takes a turn for the better. Also, it is not a waste of money to have an extra set when you can afford it—it’s prudent. Use your new set daily and keep the old set for backup. Recent and ongoing improvements in quality in lower-priced hearing aids have made high-quality hearing more affordable for everyone.
- You want to hear “your best” instead of just “better.” Most people get new hearing aids every four to five years. Although the hearing aids themselves will last longer than that, technology significantly jumps about every four years. If your goal is to give your brain the most precise information available so that it can interpret sounds better, then consider an upgrade.
- A new attitude about hearing aids. Many people who walk into my office are reluctant about getting their first hearing aid. Along with discussing sound quality and hearing aid dependability, most take extra time to talk about size, style, and how to camouflage their hearing aids. But by the time they’re ready for their second set, things have changed. They are more open about their hearing loss and their hearing aids, and they even encourage others to be more active in helping their hearing. For them, fidelity, clarity, and options are more important than invisibility. A set with a telecoil (to use with hearing loops) or Bluetooth (for wireless capability) can improve hearing, and power levels and options are available in all price ranges. No matter why you are considering new hearing aids, make sure your hearing healthcare clinic allows you to “test drive” them before purchasing. I often say that if four people come into my office with the same level of hearing loss, each will end up with a different hearing aid or set of options. For example, one may need an easy-to-manipulate device, another patient requires Bluetooth technology, the third person wants a fully submersible waterproof device, and the fourth is looking for the most affordable device for his budget. Your provider should consider hearing aids from different manufacturers to help you choose what’s best for you. If you aren’t confident that your requirements are being met, get a second opinion. Upgrading to a better quality of life is something everyone deserves.
Staff writer Barbara Jenkins, Au.D., BCABA, is Colorado’s first board-certified doctor of audiology. She has more than 25 years of hospital and clinical experience in treating patients with hearing loss. Jenkins serves as Colorado’s professional state commissioner for the deaf and hearing impaired, and was awarded the 2010 Leo Doerfler Award for Clinical Excellence by the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. For more information, see AdvancedAudiology.info. This was orginally posted on HearingHealthFoundation.org.