What to expect when you think you need hearing aids
By Maria Brown
I get told many stories of what people experience at clinics when they are being assessed for their hearing and the possibility of hearing aids. I believe that each clinic has a way of going about these assessments that is in line with what their company asks them to do. After 25 years of looking after people and 18 years of running a very successful clinic that focuses on client care, I felt it was time to explain from my point of view what your minimum expectation should be when someone is assessing you for hearing aids. I have been assured by many people that they have never had the explanations I give and the focus appears to be on selling them hearing aids which makes them suspicious immediately.
I don’t want this feeling for anyone. As I explain my role is to educate you and make it easier for you to understand what is happening with your hearing then trust that you will make a good decision about what to do about it, with my help. It is not about selling hearing aids it is about a solution to a problem that you have.
Step 1 - The Hearing Test
A diagnostic assessment is a must. Not all hearing losses require hearing aids. Sometimes I send people back to their doctors and to E.N.T. Surgeons as there is an issue that needs to be fixed first. We must find out where the hearing loss is coming from. The outer ear canal, the middle ear and the inner ear all provide different problems.
If you have an outer ear canal or middle ear issue that may be able to be fixed, then you may not need hearing aids. If the inner ear is deteriorating then this issue is not usually fixable and requires the assistance of hearing aids. In saying that if we see abnormalities we are trained to notice this and then may still send you for further assessment.
It all depends what is happening with our hearing and what are the steps we need to take to hear again. This is not dependent always on hearing aids and you need someone to trust that will give you the correct diagnosis of your hearing. Our industry has made it all about how much hearing aids cost but I see people that have been told they need hearing aids when they have no hearing loss at all! This is very awkward for me as I try to never discuss other hearing clinics as professional courtesy and I am not privy to their business practice, but when I get asked why would they do that I feel quite embarrassed. So this then is not about cost, it is about ethics.
Step 2 – Hearing Aids
After the hearing test if it is explained that the only thing I feel that will assist you is hearing aids, I fully explain what is happening to your hearing. When we don’t hear it is not about being deaf it is about what sounds we are actually hearing. The speech spectrum is the most vital part of what we are listening to. Different parts of our hearing represent different sounds. The soft sounds which are defined by the letters sh, f, th, ch, s, t are high frequency sounds and the loud sounds are the a, e, i, o, u. The soft sounds can’t get louder so when we deteriorate these sounds are not getting to the brain fast enough to understand what people are saying to us.
The loud sounds in a room can get louder and this is where all the noise comes from that increases in the room that drowns out your ability to understand what people are saying. Did they say sheep, sleep or steep. It gets harder in noise because soft sounds are smothered by the din in the room, which makes it hard to hear what is being said . Most people just sit back and let it all go past because they can’t hear. What I find difficult is that people stop going out rather than get assistance with their hearing. We need a social life and we need to enjoy our family and friends.
When it gets to the hearing aids this is the subject I feel most people are in the dark the most about. Technology has advanced rapidly the last 20 years and we are now buying a computer in a hearing aid. All of the manufacturers have a top of the range product that they spend 18 months developing before it comes to market.
How it works is:
- They make from that computer, 7 different levels of hearing aids from the top to the bottom and as you go down the technology levels
- As you go down the technology levels, the processing power reduces
- So too does the feature list found inside the hearing aid
- The top of the range is where we get the message to the brain as quick as we can get a computer to work whilst filtering many different sounds around you with the full suite of features available
One brand has two computers in the hearing aid which is a first which is acting like the actual brain, scanning at the front and back rather than just cutting out noise. As we go down the 7 different levels background noise is where the aids become more of a headache because the computer isn’t gathering sounds fast enough for us to remove background noise quicky and efficiently enabling you to hear in background noise situations.
If you want to hear clearly in noisy situations the better the hearing aid the more likely you are to hear well in every situation. The less expensive hearing aids don’t have fast compression systems to get the messages to the brain quickly.
Step 3 – What do you need from a hearing aid?
I get all my clients to explain what they need the hearing aids for and I am very honest about what they can and can’t do. Some people don’t want to spend money on hearing aids and want the cheapest. I am very clear that they can’t do what the top of the range do. Some people go well I just need the TV and the nurses to be louder. This need to be taken into account when spending money on hearing aids. If you are in noisy environments all the time the top two levels of hearing aids have the better filters for cutting out background noise. This is what they are designed for.
The absolutely most important advice I can give here is to trial hearing aids.
Hearing aids are too expensive to not be given time to trial hearing aids and see if they are suitable for you. Manufacturers now have retail outlets and you can only get one brand there. What if you don’t like the sound. Don’t believe for a minute if you don’t like the hearing aids it will get better over time. That’s what people tell me when they have purchased elsewhere that they were told they will get used to it over time. The reason they are sitting with me is because they are fed up with their hearing aids bought elsewhere as they don’t work and they don’t like the sound. I ask did you try them or buy them straight away. Bought them straight away, contract at the hearing test put in front of me immediately. No discussing with anyone. Friends or family.
Please be aware hearing aids all sound different from all the manufacturers. They all have a proprietary sound that is different from other hearing aids. If the brand you are trying sounds odd try a different brand. Hearing loss is also different for everyone. Some people have had their hearing damaged others have just deteriorated as they age. Hearing aids will sound different to you than they do for your friends. We are not just whacking a pair of hearing aids in your ears, it is calculated to your hearing loss.
I have people tell me of their friends journey but as I say if they don’t have the same hearing loss as you then its comparing apples and oranges. A large portion of men have noise exposure, the same cannot be said for women. I barely see a female that has been exposed to noise. Some people have congenital hearing losses that have been passed on through the family, they are different losses again to noise exposure hearing losses. Some people also have hearing loss from birth they don’t form the words properly. This affects ability to understand sound when they are forming words as a child. Some people have middle ear issues that cannot be fixed and their nerve of hearing is still perfect but the sound is being stopped on the way through at the middle ear.
This should all be taken into account by your specialist.
Step 4 – Price
There is a lot said about price. Most people talk about the cost of hearing aids. Many ads on TV talk about the cost of hearing aids. I want to have a very honest discussion about this.
No one realises that over the lifetime of the hearing aids they often can cost you double the price you will pay for them in batteries, consultations, domes, repairs, wax stoppers. The cost of all of these things will deter you from getting the care you need because you pay the doctor, the optometrist, the hearing specialist, every time you go there.
It is an expense you don’t think of when you buy hearing aids.
Everyone focuses on the up front cost and oh my do they cost that?? but I am here to warn you that this is where it just begins. It doesn’t matter what you pay you will still fork out the industry norm in appointments and supplies after the purchase unless you are with a company like ours that has a fully inclusive cost for batteries, consultations, domes etc. for the lifetime of the hearing aids.
If you have never had hearing aids you actually don’t realise what the costs are and that our clinic is like a gold mine for people as we absorb all that cost in the purchase price. People tell me they can get them cheaper elsewhere and as I ask are they then covered for the cost for the lifetime in all the things you will need? In most cases, clients will end up paying out of pocket for virtually all of their running costs over the lifetime of their hearing care journey. Domes, consultations, adjustments, cleaning, technical support, batteries, wax stoppers, cleaning brushes, repairs, servicing. These costs depending on the make and model, clinic, chain and location can spiral deep into the thousands unless you do your research.
Maria Brown Hearing Clinic prides itself on being one of the only clinics, and possibly the most extensive in Australia that offers a completely comprehensive end-to-end hearing aid/care package. Plus, we use our large buying power over our three offices to drive down the cost of the hearing aids themselves as well. I have heard of some clinics charging $13,000+ without any after care or running costs included in the price! You even pay for spare hearing aids when yours go back when they need to go away for repair. One lady come to me and was so upset she was being charged elsewhere for repairs while her hearing aids were still within their 3 year warranty. That is not good, as the cost to the clinic to do this for the client is effectively zero, so I am unsure why she was being charged for the repair.
It is really important for you to understand what you are buying and what comes with it. Ask lots of questions when it comes to parting with your money. You want to be sure that it is all above board and there are no hidden traps that stress you out when it comes to hearing aids.
Questions you need to ask:
- How much are consultations after I purchase my hearing aids?
- How much do batteries cost?
- How long is my warranty?
- Are there costs when I am in warranty?