Comparing Hearing Aids
About 48 million people in the United States have hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Hearing aids can help many of these folks, but they tend not to seek assistance for an average of seven years. Similarly, only one out of every five people who would be helped by a hearing aid uses one.
The cost of hearing aids is part of the reason this occurrence happens. There are also myths and misconceptions about hearing aids. Plus, it’s not always clear how to compare the various aids. Searches can get overwhelming quickly, especially for seniors. This page provides insight into hearing aid features, costs, app control, and other considerations to keep in mind.
Common Features of Hearing Aids
Hearing aids come in five basic types. What’s right for one person might be wrong for another person, even if they have similar levels of hearing loss. That’s because people have different preferences, goals, and abilities. For example, one senior might have shaky fingers and may need a bigger aid that is easier to put on. Another senior without that issue might prefer an aid that is all but invisible to others, even if it has fewer features.
In any case, here’s a look at features found on many hearing aids and the top ones you can expect from each of the five types of aids.
- Telecoil that minimizes background noise and helps wearers better understand speakers in person and on the phone
- Feedback suppression (also called digital feedback reduction)
- Digital noise reduction for blocking out background sounds
- Automatic and manual volume control
- Smartphone app control
- Multiple settings for different environments such as a noisy room and a quiet room
- Direct audio input with TVs, telephones, computers, microphones, and other devices
- Bluetooth to stream music, TV dialogue, and phone calls directly into the hearing aid
- Wax guards to prevent wax buildup
- Low-battery sound notifications
- Rechargeable batteries
- Wireless connectivity between hearing aids on each ear
- Memory of listening preferences
- Data logs
- Substantial high- and low-frequency amplification
- Frequency-shifting technology
- Remote-microphone accessories
- Tinnitus masking
- Controls that are easy to manipulate
- Custom-made ear mold that is easy to clean
Questions for Seniors to Consider About Hearing Aids
People have varying preferences, but experts recommend that seniors keep a few things in mind when comparing hearing aids.
- How easy is the hearing aid to put on and take off? How easy might the process be five or 10 years from now?
- Is your manual dexterity good?
- How much do you care about the hearing aid being visible?
- Do you watch TV or talk on the phone a lot?
- Are you often in noisy environments with substantial background noise?
- How important is long battery life?
- Are you willing to learn how to use a variety of features?
Seniors who watch TV or talk on the phone often may want a hearing aid with a telecoil, direct audio input, or Bluetooth wireless technology. Similarly, seniors who are frequently in noisy rooms could benefit from hearing aids that feature telecoils, directional microphones, and digital noise reduction. Moreover, seniors who have somewhat limited dexterity with their hands may have trouble with in-the-canal and completely-in-the-canal aids. Speaking of these two kinds, let’s look at hearing aid types.
Types of Hearing Aids
Before diving into our list of the types of hearing aids, take a moment to watch this Senior Living YouTube video on the Types fo Hearing Aids. Not only will this provide you with a quick overview of each major type of hearing aid, but you will learn some of the differences, as well as why certain hearing aids are better for some individuals versus others. After watching, move on to our list for more information about the types of hearing aids out there.
- A traditional behind-the-ear hearing aid (abbreviated BTE) has a long battery life and lots of space for features. It’s large enough to be easy for many seniors to put on. However, it’s the most noticeable type of hearing aid. It may not be a good match for seniors who are fiercely self-conscious about others noticing their hearing aid. That said, seniors with severe hearing loss may need this type of aid.
- A mini-behind-the-ear hearing aid (mBTE) is less visible than BTEs and can be easy to put on. Unfortunately, the amplification you get from this type of hearing aid is limited. This point is especially true for low frequencies. However, if you hear well in the low frequencies, this type of aid may work for you.
- A traditional in-the-ear aid (ITE) fits in the outer ear and, like a BTE, has space for a good number of features such as a directional microphone and telecoil. It is also fairly easy for seniors to put on. The telecoils aren’t as powerful as those on BTEs, and ITEs may be too visible for some seniors.
- An in-the-canal aid (ITC) offers features such as directional microphones on bigger versions. ITCs are hard for other people to see but can be uncomfortable for wearers. Common problems with these hearing aids include short battery life, earwax, and moisture. They can be difficult for seniors to put on, handle, and adjust.
- A completely-in-the-canal aid (CIC) is the least visible of all hearing aids, and users take it out with a removal string. CICs are too tiny for many features such as directional microphones. Expect shorter battery life and more wax buildup and moisture with this type of aid. It can be a pain for seniors to put in and remove. The batteries can also be tricky to take in and out due to their miniature size.
Cost of Hearing Aids
You probably know that many insurance plans don’t cover hearing aids for adults. Limits are common with those that do, for example, a policy might cover only one pair of aids in your lifetime. Still, if you’re insured, check about hearing aid coverage. In particular, veterans and federal workers may receive coverage, along with residents in Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
Each hearing aid costs about $900 to $4,000. The fewer features a hearing aid has, the less it generally costs. In other words, technologically sophisticated aids are more expensive.
Hearing professionals usually set the prices for aids sold out of their office. So, it’s possible to get a hearing aid for $200 cheaper at one audiologist’s office than you would from another location. However, when you’re comparing prices, consider everything included in the process.
The cost of a hearing aid normally covers:
- The hearing test and consultation
- The device itself
- A warranty of one to three years
- A starter supply of batteries
- First fitting
- Tune-up appointments
Always ask the retailer, audiologist or hearing aid specialist what is included, and read the warranties. For example, they may cover repairs and a one-time loss.
In many cases, batteries are an ongoing cost that you pay for separately (the VA does pay for batteries, though).
When you’re comparing hearing aids and their costs, keep the following factors in mind:
- The hearing aid features you get for that price
- Which professional services are included
- What the warranty covers
To save money, get only the features you truly need and will use. Your audiologist should run tests on different hearing aids to see how well you do with each. It could be that you do just as well (or better) with a lower-priced aid versus a higher-priced device.
You should receive a written contract that goes into detail about your warranty, what the warranty covers, the professional services covered with the hearing aid, any included insurance coverage, the hearing aid trial period, and the return policy. Some states mandate that the trial period must last for at least 30 days, and a reputable retailer allows you to return your aid for most of your money back. Fees of, say, $200 are common if you return an aid. Just be sure you know in advance about the fee amounts and are comfortable with them.
Manufacturer and Retailer Reviews
Check out our guide on the best brands and retailers.
Audiologists typically carry just a few brands of hearing aids, so your options may be limited right off the bat. Ask your audiologist for their take on each brand and how certain models may fit your needs.
It can be more economical to buy hearing aids online. However, there may be “hidden costs” because you might need to take the hearing aids to a hearing specialist for fittings. You may also have to mail the aids back for adjustments. Treat online retailers like you would if buying a hearing aid in person. For example, ask to see a written contract and check whether the retailer is authorized to sell a particular brand (if not, the warranty might not apply).
Beware any retailers and manufacturers who say they can “restore” or “cure” your hearing. Hearing aids can help tremendously, but you shouldn’t expect them to 100% be able to remove background noise. Nor should you expect to hear perfectly. Stay away from companies that claim otherwise.
Smartphone App Control
It can be nice to control your hearing aids from a smartphone app. For example, the ReSound app lets you change programs when you’re conversing at a restaurant or watching TV. No direct fiddling with the hearing aid itself is necessary. This feature is particularly useful for many seniors who have limited dexterity. If this feature appeals to you, keep it in mind when comparing hearing aids.
Remember Your Preferences When Comparing Hearing Aids
When all is said and done, you want a hearing aid that you’ll wear. Comfort and hearing effectiveness go into this, as does the ability to put the hearing aid on and take it off. You may be someone who gets excited about different features, or you might be a person who feels overwhelmed by features to the point you don’t want to wear your aids. Be honest with yourself and your audiologist about what all you’re comfortable with.
Consulting an Audiologist for a Hearing Aid
Consult an audiologist to help determine the type of hearing aid you need. The audiologist looks for any underlying issues such as infections or earwax, and they perform various tests to get a good idea of your speech recognition abilities in a variety of settings. Alternatively, you can see a hearing aid specialist, but they receive less training than audiologists do. If you are curious, check out this Senior Living video on “What Does an Audiologist Do?” to gain more perspective on how audiologists evaluate your hearing and determine the right hearing aid for you.
Comparing Hearing Aid Companies
Not sure where to start? Not a problem! We have compared some of the best and most well-known hearing aid brands on the market: