We’re updating our hearing aid buying guide, and we’d love to hear about your experiences with buying and owning a hearing aid. In particular, what do you wish you had known before you bought a hearing aid? If you went through the process again, what would you do differently – or what would you do the same?
I’ve had hearing aids in both ears for 3.5 years and in many ways I wish I’d got them earlier. I knew that my hearing was below normal, but managed to get by - probably like a lot of people do. For information purposes I was 59 when I got the hearing aids, and I have what’s commonly called high-tone deafness - around the most important frequencies for speech.
The audiologist was very helpful and didn’t try to push the most expensive models - she basically said that unless you really want to spend a very large amount (eg. $12,000) the difference between good and “the top of line” wasn’t worth it. I was supplied 2 aids with in-ear speakers, but not moulded ear pieces, to trial for a couple of weeks, maybe a month. They use external (above or behind the ear) “processors”. The units were adjusted to match my hearing loss, individually for each ear. I was shown how to adjust the volume etc.
I found that they made a huge difference to me, and decided to go ahead. The units were then changed to have moulded ear pieces with the speakers in them. If the brand is important, they’re Phonak (Model Audeo V50-13 - their spelling). Cost was $4,000 of which $1,000 was covered by private health.
Still expensive but worth it to me.
I’m not sure that I’d do anything particularly differently in looking for aids again - I was perhaps a bit lucky in that my mother has hearing aids and I took her for her appointments with the audiologist, so was already comfortable with the company and audiologist.
I’ve had a couple of problems with them that were both fixed under warranty. The first issue was that the speaker wire came out of one earpiece once. The second issue was one of earpieces cracked for some reason. You do need to be reasonably dexterous to handle hearing aids - small batteries, switches etc. They can be prone to getting wax in the speaker outlets, but you are supplied with replacement outlets (called ceru-stops) that are easy enough to replace. I’ve also found that when in very humid weather it is possible to get sweat in the battery compartment, which in my case stopped the RH unit from working. Just dried it out and it was fine.
They’re not perfect - you tend to hear your own voice a lot more and there’s more noise transmitted when eating things like nuts.
From seeing other people (my parents in law for example) it is absolutely critical to try out hearing aids and give yourself a chance to adjust to them before buying them. My in-laws just wouldn’t try to get used to them, complaining that everything was too loud. To be fair they were not able to easily adjust the volume and I guess also just expected that they would have “normal” hearing again, but of course hearing aids can’t do that (yet).
Thanks Mark, that’s really helpful!
~5 years on and as I previously posted I am a Costco audiology customer. The only difference between them and a local audiologist is the price, and that Costco usually has last years top models not always this years, or sometimes one down. They have all sorts of models from in-the-ear and behind the ear RIC to basic entry models. Mine were $2400 from Costco and the same make and model quoted by an independent audiologist was in the $6000 range. I have no affiliation with Costco and originally joined because I heard about their audiology prices.
- Due to the shape of my inner ears I had to have custom molds. They are like wearing ear plugs and I never got used to the feel so do not wear the hearing aids all the time.
- The more you wear them the better they work for most people because the brain gets used to the frequencies it has missed as one’s hearing degraded over time.
- I hear much better with the aids than without, but in each case when there is background noise (a busy restaurant is a good example) it makes it difficult to understand speech because the hearing aids do not differentiate perfectly and amplify pretty much everything and it makes word differentiation harder.
- One program translates all sound into the frequencies I hear better. It is brilliant in the quiet but nasty in the restaurant where it can get a bit overwhelming with the sounds and noises. FWIW I have 5 programs, standard, standard front preference, frequency translation, frequency translation front preference, and outdoors. There is a coil program but I have found few places that cater to the induction coils.
- Wind noise happens and I generally do not wear them when out and about the outdoors, so wind creates white noise even though the digital program attempts to minimise/cancel it.
- I have rechargeable batteries. All hearing aids do not support them which limits choice in the hearing aid IF you want rechargeables. My batteries last about 18 months prior to noticeable degradation. Put the aids into chargers at night and good to go in the morning for about 14 hours runtime. The chargers also dry the aids. If I am going away for a few days I use regular batteries rather than cart the charger.
- AIds do not fix hearing, they are an assist. Most of us with hearing loss do not differentiate words 100% even with them and expectations in the 95% range are realistic. Without the aids? Far worse.
- Current high end models have Bluetooth to remotely control loudness and change the programs. All have buttons to do both. My older model required an optional remote that I chose not to buy; no problems using the buttons.
It is very important to wear them all the time except when in water eg Showers, swimming, and when asleep. The reason is the brain first needs to adjust to the way sounds are now heard because of the Aids and once adjusted to them it will affect you more when not wearing them than it used to. Some Hearing Aids can be waterproof and in those cases swimming and showering may be activities where you continue using them.
For some people full ear moulds are better than the thin tube ones that sit in the ear canal, some people can get away with using the complete in ear type of hearing aids. If you are an excessive ear sweater then make sure you use the hearing aid drying methods to ensure they are as free from moisture as possible each day, we find the replaceable desiccating discs in a sealed jar work well for us.
Have your ears checked regularly for wax build up and compaction as the wax 1) can reduce the sounds you hear, 2) it can block the hearing mould or tube rendering the aids useless until the wax is removed and 3) it can lead to a higher risk of or ear infections because of trapped moisture in the ear.
If you hearing aid supplier has a maintenance scheme it is worthwhile looking at paying for it. As we are pensioners we get Aids for free and the maintenance cost is about $45 a year for one of us (which allows us free batteries, cleaning, and repairs).
If you get another Hearing Aid set it is worthwhile seeing if your last old pair can be tuned to your current hearing needs and then keep them as emergency spares.
Check whether you can have the settings set for at least 2 types but preferably 3 types of use. These are normal usage, directional (they are set to pick up noise from in front of you) so in noisy environments you can concentrate on the person you are listening/speaking to in front of you, and loop setting also called T-switch which allows listening to sounds broadcast over a loop circuit or with telephones that allow this coupling. Some more expensive Aids can have other settings as well but these 3 are probably the major useful ones.
If your Aids support using a remote to adjust the settings it can make life easier than playing with the settings buttons on the Aids themselves but cost can be a factor.
If you are used to listening to music or want to hear when the doorbell or phone rings getting a loop system in your house can be a real benefit and if listening to the TV or music you can set it as high a volume as you need and not disturb anyone else.
Ahh @TheBBG beat me to my points but in regards to the coil many banks particularly their ATM machines now support coil/induction/T-switch Hearing Aids and it can make listening to the menus so much easier. Qld Rail at a lot of major and newer Stations support T switch and allow for much better hearing of train announcements (we use that a lot).
Thanks BBG, I’m really interested to hear about the Costco experience. They’re a massive disruptor in the US market, not so much here - yet.
Thanks Grahroll, so great tips here!
In the US one can purchase hearing aids from multiple sources at prices far below our audiologists and Costco US audiology is ‘sharp’ but not a ‘segment killer’. As far as I can tell Costco AU starts with US prices, adjusts for the xrate and GST plus a little bit, where the local industry has a multiple times markup.
Although Costco memberships are $60 p.a. I more than save that with routine purchases and get a hearing test annually and an aid clean and check at the 6 mos interval; any time I need something be it an adjustment, question, whatever, they accommodate as part of the service.
While I don’t currently requIre a hearing aid, obviously a great topic.
It’s probable most of those over 80 aren’t a regular part of the digital revolution. My observation is hearing loss is very common in this group, near relatives, included. Perhaps the most needy and challenged users.
May I ask how Choice plans to capture the experiences of the oldest of our generation who need to use hearing aids?
That my near 90yr old Mother in Law now has a set is amazing.
They are so small they nearly get lost in her ears. Which is not ideal.
She has been advised to remove the batteries each night and when not in use.
They are so small with the plastic cradle and cap impossible to manage even for a much younger person.
So with very poor eyesight, weak grip and arthritis the medical professionals that sold her these need to find a different occupation, perhaps in the used car or banking sector. They are far from fit for her needs. Needless it is rare for her to use them. The poor choice/recommendation justifies her original view that they are unnecessary and useless.
So should or are all hearing aides be supplied with a 14 day trial period?
And should the providers/sales staff have a legal obligation to ensure they are suitable for a customer taking into account all of the relevant needs and abilities of the inidividual. Or be obliged to decline the sale at threat of legal penalty? Accept this is also part of a more general issue of unfair dealings with the elderly.
Is it also the provision of these services Choice should be reviewing at the same time as the physical attributes of competing products?
Other than features and the generalised benefits of each style is there any value in Choice recommending a particular model or brand if it is preferentially sold through a chain that has poor client outcomes?
Choice can be a great assistance here! As we get older we tend to stay in one place, do less shopping around and resist change. Knowing first hand where not to go or who has good customer ethics is equally valuable to getting the right product. It may even help to break the cycle of indifferent service and dubious behaviour.
My ears do scream at me at night, so I will be next in line. Look forward to your updated review. Meanwhile there is still another 50% left on the TV volume.
P.s. I can see from the comments already there is discussion that relates to more than just features and fit. Who you go to appears to be of importance for some.
I have worn hearing aids since 1994 (aged 48, now 71). Not all hearing loss is age related. Speak to any audiologist & they will confirm that the incidence of hearing loss in younger age groups is increasing (almost alarmingly) due to use of headphones, loud music, sitting/standing too close to speakers at rock concerts etc.
Initially I was fitted with ITC aids. I now have a Behind the Ear model with a mold for the canal. As a pensioner I was entitled to free hearing aids for my most recent aids, but topped up with Resound LiNX7 aids which I chose because they can be paired with my iPhone (SE) and my iPad. The top up cost was approx $5,000. The pensioner deal also provides batteries for free.
Difficulty hearing telephone conversations was always an issue for me. Pairing enables me to hear my phone ringing (even if it is some distance away in another room), & hear the conversation directly through my hearing aids. I can also listen to music, radio programs, Google map directions & video clips etc on iPad or iPhone.
Resound has a Smart App for iPhone use enabling a switch to different programs for different situations (programmed by my audiologist), although I rarely use these.
Having sung the praises of these aids I have had 2 issues which have impacted on the pairing facility. The first issue was resolved when my audiologist downloaded a hearing aid hardware update, although it took a lot of internet research & a visit to the Apple Genius Bar to isolate the problem and steps to resolution.
I am currently experiencing difficulties again with the pairing process & forum research indicates other users are isolating the problem to iOS 11 version updates.
I note that previous community posters have mentioned Costco supplied aids. Interestingly the helpful technician at the Apple Genius Bar was herself a wearer of hearing aids (of the paired to smart phone variety) which she had bought from Costco. She assured me the process was very professional with qualified audiologists testing & supplying individually fitted well known brands at a quarter of the price.
I have had hearing aids for over 20 years, with moderate hearing loss. My comments will be brief.
Buy the top brands if you are serious about improving your hearing.
I love my new Oticon opn units. Much better than previous Resound, which I thought were great.
Get rechargeable batteries. Easy and economical.
Most importantly, find a good audiologist who provides independent advice. Sure, it costs more than Costco and cheaper alternatives but I have experienced so many friends being frustrated with their aids, largely because they shopped price. But didn’t economise on their car.
Technology is advancing rapidly and prices are falling. So upgrade every 2-4 years.
6, Healthy hearing has a profound effect on quality of life. So don’t compromise. Get the best.
Most people over 60 have problems with noise in restaurants, A real plus for the latest units is the capability to reduce annoying background noise in restaurants, My audiologist has also been able to reduce sharp “clanking cutlery and dropping plate” incidents.
These are the finer tweaks that truly make a difference. Attenuating noise from those pesky diners behind you celebrating a 30th birthday is important.
Bluetooth to iPhone makes managing your hearing levels so easy, Resound were first to offer this but now most makes offer an app and the Oticon app makes it even easier. Great to make quick adjustments at the movies, in conferences and at meetings.
Many people share your concern and it is true that every Costco audiologist is not as good as every other Costco audilogist and some might be among the tops but that is the same with independents. If you find a good audiologist stick with them, but if you get a good one at 1/3 the cost does that make them suspect in our lives pervasive with the ‘Australia tax’, or does it make sense to ‘shop around’?
Great advice to shop around if you live in a city and larger regional centre.
For the rest of us having a comprehensive Choice guide, reviews and user comments is the next best thing. To know if the one and only provider in town is doing the best for you. From experience in some of the larger regional centres 50,000 plus - we’ve often found the small number of competing businesses often appear to have identical business models.
Choice is essential.
Of course it makes sense to shop around. Obviously we all have a budget to meet, and if you find a good adviser at the right/low price that is terrific. My observation though is that many people (mostly men), having finally come to terms with their need for a hearing aid, rush to the bottom for a cheap price. Far better to start swimming in the quality pool and then work down to meet your budget.
Limited selection in smaller centres is obviously an issue. ‘Choice’ is absolutely essential to capture the experiences of other consumers. Yes, the business models are surprisingly similar although some of the franchise groups provide some innovation.
When I first ‘met with Costco’ an anecdotal story was about a very elderly man with his less elderly son. The son was a Costco audiology customer and the father was not. The father was happy to pay 3X because he was convinced paying more was always better. Both gents were happy with their choices.
One Costco audiologist is a lady who was a researcher with Cochlear and wanted to return to clinical work. Quality? Skill? I would think so. They are as qualified or better as any audiologist.
Implied fear of low prices leading to inferior service or outcomes is possibly a disservice to readers. It could equally be said to start low and if not satisfied work up, could it not? Another of my Costco stories that could be relevant is
I was in that queue. it took my wife 2 years to convince me I needed them
FWIW it took me longer than that to convince her she needed them too
Firstly I would never use Australian Hearing for they shared my personal details with a past employer without my permission and in spite of a complaint to the Privacy Commission I have never received an apology.
The fact that many if not most audiology services are owned by the international companies that only provide their own branded hearing aids means that we are captive to the service provider; and in comparison with some overseas and online providers we can pay many times the price asked of by these providers.
I live in the tropics and have found that the in-canal aids are potentially unsuitable as I have had ongoing ear infections and wax buildup as a consequence to the use of these devices.
I am grateful to the availability of the technology; but I note that my medical insurance provider, Medibank Private, on the highest tier, pays for a very small fraction of the device and fitting costs when choosing something that is beyond the basic aid.
I am happy that Choice is investigating hearing aids; they are a boon to the hearing challenged community, but I would have wished to know about all my options before spending the thousands that continue for me to provide a marginal benefit. The issue of Tinnitus is not addressed by the use of hearing aids.
Thank you for the opportunity to offer my comments.
Some newer Aids do come with a Tinnitus program that provides a background level of noise to help alleviate or reduce the Tinnitus effects. The use of them may be something you may benefit from. Some examples of this type of program are below:
I’ve had hearing aids for just under a year now at the age of 68, am very happy with them (while also recognizing that they do have some limitations), and I would make 3 suggestions:
First, do your research so you have an idea of what sort of hearing aids you want, what features you would like, and what the price ranges are. Go to the audiologist with some knowledge of your own rather than in total ignorance. My decision making was made easier by researching manufacturer’s websites (don’t get carried away by the hype) and also several of the independent hearing aid review and news sites. From them I knew that 2 features would be essential for me: a good music programme so I could listen to live performances with minimal intervention from the hearing aid sound processing circuitry, and an effective app so that I had easy control over the features of the hearing aids (apps are more convenient, flexible and effective than remote controls).
Secondly, go to an independent audiologist, not one of the franchises which are often tied to particular brands, so that you have access to as full a range of brands as possible. After researching I asked to try a brand myaudiologist didn’t normally handle (Widex) because it had been reviewed well and had the features I wanted. Because the audiologist wasn’t tied to particular brands he was able to follow up on my request, and this is the brand I now use - very happily.
Thirdly, trial as many different models of hearing aids as you are able to. They do vary, and I would have been unable to live with one particular brand which I trialled even though it came from one of the big names - It just didn’t suit me.
Finally, don’t have unrealistic expectations about what hearing aids can do, and give yourself every chance of getting used to them and getting the most out of them by wearing them as often as you can.
Oh, and one other thing. Talk to your household contents insurer about insuring your hearing aids against loss or damage. Top models are expensive both to buy and to replace!