If you suffer from hearing loss you have a lot of company. Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffers with hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.
If you are a Baby Boomer born after 1946, you may suffer hearing loss because you were part of the “Rock ‘n Roll” generation that regularly blasted music at peak volume through ear phones. One of my friends was a disc jockey in high school and college and he spent the better part of every afternoon and weekend listening to music at high volume. The Animals and the Rolling Stones may have made great music but the volume of the beat eventually erased part of his hearing range. It took him years to admit he had difficulty hearing conversations in crowded restaurants and even longer to seek help.
It can be embarrassing for anyone to admit to hearing loss. Social media may say that 60 is the new 50 but that doesn’t help when hearing loss makes you suddenly feel old. Although hearing aid technology has advanced light years ahead, visions of your grandfather’s hearing aid may cause you to avoid testing and delay treatment. In fact, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, less than 25% of all people who need hearing aids actually get them. Most people don’t realize that the majority of hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids. It’s time to learn about the new technology of hearing aids and devices that are so tiny that you can hear without the fear of looking or feeling old.
How do I know a hearing aid can help me?
The first step to determining how a hearing aid can compensate for your hearing loss is to be evaluated by a trained audiologist. A hearing exam will determine the type of hearing loss and the type of hearing aid that is needed. Then you and the audiologist will discuss how you typically communicate; where it takes place and what it is like. For example, if you do a lot of work on the phone, the audiologist may recommend a hearing aid with a “T” (telecoil) circuit that amplifies telephone sounds while eliminating background noises.
Let’s talk technology.
There are three different types of hearing aid technology:
- Conventional analog
- Analog programmable
- Digital programmable
All of these are designed to enhance the volume of the sound that goes into the ear. The advances in hearing aid technology are designed to decrease background noise while increasing the clarity of conversations and voices using microchips, computerization and digitized sound processing.
Conventional analog hearing aids are designed to use a specific frequency based on the findings of your hearing test. Although some adjustments can be made, this type of hearing aid essentially amplifies all sounds (speech and noise) in the same way. This technology is the least expensive and can be appropriate for many different types of hearing loss.
Analog programmable hearing aids have a microchip that the audiologist can program for different listening environments. For example, it can be programmed to enhance hearing for quiet conversations in your home, noisy situations like a restaurant, or large areas like a theater. The programming settings depend on your individual hearing loss profile, speech understanding, and your range of tolerance for louder sounds.
Digital programmable hearing aids do the best job of addressing the number one complaint of most individuals with hearing loss – addressing (and reducing) background noise. They use digitized sound processing (DSP) to convert sound waves into digital signals and a computer chip determines whether the sound is noise or speech. It then modifies the sound waves to provide a clearer, amplified, distortion-free signal. Digital hearing aids are equipped with more than one listening program and can be set for different levels of background noise. Hearing aids with multiple programs may automatically change between programs or can be manually changed by the individual. Some hearing aids may come with remote controls. Digital hearing aids are adjusted by computer to address the specific hearing levels of each individual ear.
Digital hearing aids are more expensive than analog, but generally have a longer life span and offer benefits that include:
- Improved programming
- Greater precision in fitting
- Management of loudness discomfort
- Control of acoustic feedback (whistling sounds)
- Noise reduction (i.e., background noise)
Different technology, same basic parts.
Every hearing aid, whether analog or digital, has three basic parts; a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through the microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.
There are two different types of microphone technology:
- Directional microphone technology is better for hearing in environments where there is a lot of background noise, like restaurants. These hearing aids typically have two microphones and the ability to focus (or direct) one microphone towards the sound source while the other attempts to decrease some of the background noise.
- Hearing aids with one microphone function in an omni-directional mode in which sound is picked up from all directions around the hearing aid wearer.
Ask your audiologist what type of microphone is contained within the hearing aid you are considering.
Let’s talk hearing aid style
Now, for the fun part.
This is where you personal preferences come into play. The selection of a hearing aid style is will determine how comfortable you feel wearing one. Hearing aids come in different styles and you will work with the audiologist to determine which best suits your personal needs and your specific type of hearing loss. You can read about these types and see photos of each here.
The four basic styles of hearing aids are:
Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids consist of a hard plastic case worn behind the ear and connected to a plastic ear mold that fits inside the outer ear. The electronic parts are held in the case behind the ear. Sound travels from the hearing aid through the ear mold and into the ear. BTE hearing aids are used by people of all ages for mild to profound hearing loss.
Open-fit hearing aids fit completely behind the ear with only a narrow tube inserted into the ear canal. This lets the ear canal remain open. Open-fit hearing aids may be a good choice for people with a buildup of earwax since this type of aid is less likely to be damaged by it. Some people may prefer the open-fit hearing aid because they do not perceive their voice as sounding “plugged up” or “nasally.”
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear. The case holding the electronic components is made of hard plastic. Some ITE hearing aids may also use a telecoil, which is a small magnetic coil that allows you to receive sound through the circuitry of the hearing aid, rather than through the microphone. You can use the telecoil when you use the telephone and when you are in public places that have installed induction loop systems, such as churches, schools, airports, and auditoriums.
In-the-Canal (ITC) hearing aids fit into the ear canal and are made to fit the size and shape of your ear canal and can be completely or nearly hidden in the ear canal. ITC hearing aids are used for mild to moderately severe hearing loss. Because they are small, canal aids may be difficult for a person to adjust and remove and should be removed daily for cleaning. Canal aids have less space available for batteries and additional devices, such as a telecoil so they are not recommended for people with severe to profound hearing loss. Their reduced size limits their power and volume.
Receiver in canal (RIC) hearing aids are barely visible when worn. The RIC style is an instrument in which the receiver, or speaker, is inside the ear canal. Thin electrical wires are used instead of a plastic acoustical tube, reducing distortion. RIC hearing aids provide a comfortable, open fit. For mild to moderate hearing loss.
Your own voice may sound louder when you wear a hearing aid. Background noises that you haven’t heard in a long time may seem distracting and loud. You may become disoriented when you hear sounds you have not heard previously. It is truly a big, bold world of sounds and it may take several weeks or months for you to adjust. We will help you.
We know this is a lot of information. However, our audiologists will help find the best hearing aid for you. We ensure that you receive a professional hearing aid evaluation and receive an appropriate recommendation for a hearing aid that includes the following information:
- Trial period
- Sales contract
- Warranty information
- List of features and benefits
- Maintenance and repair that we perform on-site
There is a world of hearing waiting for you. It’s time to take advantage of 21st century technology. Let us introduce you to the sounds you’ve been missing.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association