SayWhatClub Online Voices January 2011
Consumer Guide to Hearing Aids
by Elena Kagan, B.A. Audiology Resident
Edited by John Weigand, Au.D., Attending Audiologist
SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY
Finding an Audiologist
Finding an audiologist can seem challenging for individuals seeking hearing healthcare. Where can I find a qualified audiologist? What credentials does an audiologist have? Should I be seeing a hearing aid dispenser instead? These are common questions one may have before seeking out professional hearing services. An audiologist is a hearing and balance specialist who is qualified to undertake the non-medical identification and management of hearing and balance problems, including recommending and dispensing hearing aids. Audiologists have a comprehensive education of hearing and balance system diagnostics and rehabilitation. An audiologist should hold either a Master’s or Doctoral level professional degree, hold a certificate of clinical competence in audiology and be licensed in the state in which they practice. Most audiologists also hold a hearing aid dispensing license. You can check an audiologist’s credentials by contacting the state licensing board. As a hearing aid consumer, you can also learn about the business practices and ratings of an audiologist by contacting the Better Business Bureau, local consumer protection agency or the state attorney general’s office.
A Hearing Aid Dispenser, who does not hold an earned license in Audiology, holds a retail business license to engage in the selling and dispensing of hearing aids. Hearing aid dispensers do not have the same scope of practice as an audiologist and are limited to administering testing for the sole purpose of dispensing hearing aids.
When choosing an audiologist, it would be helpful to ask friends, coworkers and family members for recommendations. A personal recommendation is a good indicator of a high quality of professional service. A referral from an Otolaryngologist (ENT) or Primary Care Physician can also be helpful. Professional national audiology organizations such as the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association, the American Doctors of Audiology and the American Academy of Audiology have directories of audiologists that can be useful.
What to Expect from an Audiologist
An audiologist should be attune to a patient’s overall hearing needs and not just focus on hearing aids. You can expect a competent audiologist to:
- Discuss the effects of hearing loss on lifestyle, relationships and workplace
- Ask about manual dexterity and/or visual impairment
- Give you the opportunity to discuss your lifestyle, interests and activities
- Give you the opportunity to discuss listening situations that you struggle with
- Fully explain test results in layman’s terms
- Discuss realistic expectations
- Display his/her credentials
- Provide a written contract for hearing aid purchases
Selecting appropriate hearing aids can seem daunting to the inexperienced consumer and it is important to trust the advice and recommendation of your audiologist. Just about all hearing aids dispensed these days are digital and computer programmed specifically for one’s hearing loss levels. Hearing aids have been shown to improve quality of life in individuals with hearing impairment (www.hearingloss.org). There are several styles of hearing aids ranging from custom made, in the ear devices to those that fit discretely behind the ear. Most people would agree that with the cosmetic advancements in today’s device technology, you can keep your good looks and still hear well!
Regardless of style, the most important aspect of hearing aid selection is technology or circuitry of the hearing aids. All hearing aids have a small computer chip that makes decisions for you based on your listening environment. The days of hearing aids simply amplifying sounds are long gone. Hearing devices come in several levels of technology:
The cost of hearing aids generally depends more on the level of technology and than the cosmetic style or size of the device. Premium level hearing instruments will perform better in noisy and adverse listening environments, which may be necessary for active individuals with high communication needs. With less demanding communication needs and a less active lifestyle, an individual can benefit from less sophisticated technology.
When purchasing hearing aids, it is important that the consumer be well-informed and ask questions, which may include:
- What is the best type of hearing aid for my hearing loss and lifestyle? Why are you recommending this device?
- What services do the hearing aids come with regarding loss/repair warranties and warranty renewal? Will there be a charge for batteries and/or follow up visits?
- Do you have walk-in repair hours or is it appointment only?
- Following a certain period of time, will I be charged for office visits?
- Does my insurance provide benefit for hearing aids?
- Please explain the adjustment/trial period.
Most hearing aids need to be programmed using a sophisticated computer software to the user’s hearing loss and then adjusted based on the user’s communication needs.
During the hearing aid fitting the audiologist should:
- Make sure that the device/s are relatively comfortable
- Discuss battery insertion, removal, size, storage, expected lifespan and proper handling
- Explain and have you practice with the volume and program controls
- Discuss how to manage feedback (hearing aid squealing) in the unlikely event that it does occur
- Review discerning right and left hearing aids
- Instruct on device insertion, removal, cleaning and precautions, (avoiding moisture, etc.)
- Discuss use of telecoil and have you practice using the aids with the telephone
- Outline the initial schedule for hearing aid wear
When programming hearing aids, the audiologist should consider your lifestyle and which environments you communicate in the majority of the time. In follow-up appointments, the audiologist may conduct verification tests to assess the response and benefit of your hearing aids, inquire regarding how your hearing aids have improved your communication, answer questions and concerns about care and use, make adjustments based on your comments and teach you trouble-shooting strategies.
Research Prior to Seeking out Hearing Healthcare
Your primary source for hearing aid recommendations and service should be from your audiologist. You may consider conducting an initial search of different hearing aid styles and types on the Internet.
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