In March of every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) and people in the hearing industry celebrate and support a “World Hearing Day.” It’s been going on for decades and is generally used to raise awareness about hearing loss and inform listeners and readers about the options available to them – options for appliances that are available today to help people hear better.
Of course, much of the hearing loss occurring around the world is associated with getting older. Since I suffer from mild hearing loss myself, I like to track and periodically share any new information I find. For the last few years, the big news has been about the ability to purchase hearing aids online and over-the-counter. More on that later in this post.
I want to start with some guidance and wisdom from a couple of experts in the audiology world, Dr. Daniel Troast and Dr. Beki Kellogg. Dr. Troast is from HearUSA and Dr. Kellogg is from Hope Hearing and Tinnitus Center. Both experts responded to the following questions:
How can older adults prioritize their hearing health this year?
Dr. Kellogg advocates self-awareness as the first step. She suggests that you ask yourself some questions about your behavior around hearing: do you avoid noisy places because you are afraid you will miss much of what is being said? Can you sit back and enjoy a conversation in a restaurant? Can you hear the soft, high pitch of childrens’ voices? She also advocates asking loved ones for honest answers about your hearing capability. Are you asking “what?” a lot? The people you live or work with will know!
Dr. Troast recommends that everyone over the age of 60 have their hearing checked annually. It should be as routine as an eye test. Regular testing will also give you the advantage of a baseline, so even if you aren’t having trouble now, if hearing challenges arise in the future, you will have previous tests as a basis of comparison.
What tips do you have for choosing the right hearing aids?
Not surprisingly, both doctors recommend working with a hearing professional (an audiologist) to ensure that there is nothing blocking your ear canal or any evidence of disease in your ears. Hearing docs are also very good at listening to your needs and the different ways you struggle with your current level of hearing deficiency. Answering questions about what you are doing now and what you may have stayed away from will be excellent clues for them in helping you choose exactly the right hearing device.
The doctors both also agreed that fit is critical for a positive experience with hearing aids. Working with a hearing care professional (HCP) will help you meet the demands of your unique lifestyle. Like with any other area of health, a close working relationship with your HCP will undoubtedly yield dividends in satisfaction with your new devices. Working with a hearing professional that represents several lines of hearing aids can be an advantage as well, since they are not locked in to one manufacturer.
In today’s world, however, we need to balance their excellent guidance with practical concerns about cost and convenience.
Other Options for purchasing hearing aids
In October of 2022, the FDA’s hearing aids ruling went into effect. This removed the necessity to have a medical exam, prescription, or professional fitting before purchasing hearing aids. Professional audiologists fought hard against this ruling, but some very convincing arguments were laid out before the feds, and in the end they capitulated for two very specific reasons.
1) Nearly 25% of Americans between the ages of 65-74 have hearing loss that is significant enough to affect their daily life, and that figure jumps to 50% for people over 75, yet the average wait time between when hearing loss begins and the first visit with an audiologist is 10 years. This was mostly attributed to cost.
2) There is a perception in America that there is no way to effectively treat hearing loss (i.e. hearing aids are cumbersome and don’t work) and therefore the money spent will be wasted.
The FDA’s ruling is intended to combat both of those barriers. With increased competition among new hearing aid companies that market and sell hearing aids OTC or online, the prices will come down significantly, more people will try them and the reputation of hearing aids will rise in stature. It is also important to note that hearing-aid technology has advanced quite a bit in the last 10 years, as has the ability and willingness of older people to teleconference.
A survey, conducted by Lexie Hearing (an online vendor of hearing aids) revealed findings that mirror what the FDA was seeing:
- 44% of Americans ages 45 and up think about their hearing at least occasionally but among them, 69% report they have not had a hearing test in the last year.
- Three out of four people over the age of 45 report that their health is very important and undergo screenings of various types each year. However, more than 1/3 have never had a hearing test
- 34% of people say they believe hearing loss is not a health concern until the age of 65. However, regular hearing aid use has been associated with a lower prevalence of depression, improved physical and cognitive health, and a lower risk of dementia
- Less than 15% of people say they get their hearing checked regularly, but a majority (82%) do take at least some precautions to protect their hearing such as monitor the volume on devices/headphones, avoiding noisy environments or wearing ear protection when in noisy environments.
There are quite a few resources available to help you determine what kind of hearing aid will work best for you and who you might purchase it from. The National Council on Aging has invested 5300 hours of research, consulted 12 experts, considered 18 brands and 95 models, and selected 12 that they recommend. When starting an online search for hearing aids, this resource should come in very handy.
The above arguments, plus the significant savings I would reap, convinced me that it would be in my best interest to purchase hearing aids online. After my own due diligence, I ended up purchasing mine from Jabra. I liked that they have high tech features, including blue tooth streaming, rechargeable batteries, and they pair well with my phone. I also liked that Jabra has been in the hearing device business for 20+ years.
Hearing aid purchase is a very personal choice and everyone’s needs are different. I hope that an increasing number of baby boomers will own up to the fact that their hearing is not what it used to be. Regardless of whether you believe it’s due to a steady diet of rock music for 50 years, a hereditary condition, or just another “part” wearing out, hearing is an important part of good communication and daily living. Ignore it at your peril!
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