ODHHS Information and Technical Assistance Series
Sound Advice on Purchasing a Hearing Aid
(Source: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, ASHA)
If you have a hearing loss, it is very likely that you are one of millions of people who could benefit from hearing aids. Here is some sound advice to help you purchase what you need.
Besides ASHA's brochure on hearing aids, other material on hearing aids exists. One of the most unique of these publications is a brochure from Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc. (SHHH), entitled "Hearing Loss: How to Get Help ... A Guide for Consumers by Consumers." Available since May 1994, this publication is an eight-page booklet written for consumers by consumers in clear, nontechnical language. It provides people with hearing loss with the information and direction they need to cope with it. SHHH's booklet shares successful consumer experiences with accessing the hearing health care system, hearing aid purchase, hearing aid use, and aural rehabilitation. Readers receive not only information but actual statements from hearing aid users:
Be an educated consumer. Learn about hearing aids before purchase. Ask the provider about the kind of services and products offered. Read ASHA's free brochure, "How to Buy a Hearing Aid."
See an audiologist. The audiologist will conduct a comprehensive hearing evaluation to find out the type and extent of any hearing loss and what can be done about it. In some cases, the audiologist will refer you to a physician for medical or surgical treatment. An audiologist has a master's or doctoral degree, a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from ASHA and, in 41 states, a license to practice. You can call ASHA toll-free (800) 638-8255 for the names of audiologists near you.
If hearing aid use has been recommended, see a dispensing audiologist who has different types and models of hearing aids. To find the right aid or aids for your particular hearing loss and your specific communication needs, you may need to try several different hearing aids as part of the hearing aid evaluation. For the best hearing results, be willing to consider all styles of hearing aids. Be wary of mail order companies that advertise "specially fitted earmolds" or "one-size-fits all" hearing aids.
Keep your expectations for improvement realistic.
Ask about various hearing aid options. For example, the right telecoil in the hearing aid's circuitry may allow you to hear better on the telephone and to use assistive devices in other listening situations.
Cost is important but, like any purchase, should not be your only consideration. Also consider factors like product reliability, repair and maintenance history, special features, cost of batteries, and the amount of follow-up care. Follow-up care will help you receive maximum benefit from your hearing aid.
Be skeptical about high pressure sales tactics.
Make sure you receive at least a 30 day trial period. This is the law in some states. Check beforehand exactly what fees, such as the costs for evaluation, custom-fit parts, and earmolds, are nonrefundable if you need to return the aid or aids. Report even minor problems to your audiologist. Your hearing aid may need only a simple adjustment.
Have the warranty explained to you. How long is the warranty? Will the aid be replaced or repaired? Does the warranty cover only defects in materials or workmanship or does it also cover damage from normal use such as loose volume controls or battery compartment doors? Who will do the repairs: your audiologist, another dispenser, or the manufacturer? How quickly can repairs be done? Will a loaner aid be provided if your aid is out for repair? Does the warranty cover theft or loss? Can the length of the warranty be extended at additional cost? What is that cost?
Find out about repair and maintenance after the warranty period. Like any electronic device, hearing aids will need repairs and adjustments from time to time. How frequent are these repairs for the make and model selected? What is an average cost of repair? Will these repairs be done by someone different from the person who did them under warranty? What kind of batteries are used? How often will they need to be replaced? Is a battery buying plan available?
Find out about the availability of hearing aid insurance. Individual use is the key factor to consider in purchasing hearing aid insurance to supplement coverage under warranty. For an active youngster, a slide into second base can dislodge an aid, leaving it to be trampled in the infield. If the hearing aid user is confused or disoriented, aids may be misplaced or lost frequently. Pets have also been known to chew aids left on tabletops or dressers.
If your individual lifestyle is such that accidental damage or loss is likely, you might want to find out from your audiologist about hearing aid insurance. Is it available in your state? How much does it cost (policies vary from about $35 per year to more than $100)? Are there any deductible payments required? What are the specific terms of coverage?
Have your hearing evaluated on a regular basis.
"Having contact with people through hearing is important. I do this with two hearing aids, lipreading, and speechreading-interpreting what is said through body gestures" -- Olga S., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
"I've tried as many as four different models of hearing aids before settling on one. You have to give yourself time to adjust" -- Carol G., New Egypt, New Jersey
"It was the most thrilling moment of my life, to hear -- all sorts of things I haven't heard in a longtime. It's like the difference between night and day" -- Robert Y., Muskegon, Michigan
"I got by most of my life without a hearing aid. But, I have to admit, once I got one, it opened up a whole new world for me" -- Harold J., Napa, California
SHHH, the largest self-help group for people with hearing loss in the United States, has distributed the brochure to senior centers, libraries, grocery stores, and to individuals through both the national organization and its 270 local chapters and groups. Thirteen thousand copies alone were sent out to readers of a "Dear Abby" column that cited SHHH as an information source.
The development of the original brochure and the printing of 40,000 copies was funded, in part, with a consumer grant from ASHA. ASHA instituted this program of competitive grants in 1993 to recognize the value of self-help/mutual aid groups in the lives of people with communication disorders and to assist such groups meet their own organizational goals. A second printing of 40,000 copies later in 1994 was funded by contributions from several organizations, including ASHA.
For a copy of the brochure, write SHHH, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1200, Bethesda, MD 20814, or call (301) 657-2248 (Voice) or (301) 657-2249 (TTY).
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the national professional and scientific society that represents 81,427 audiologists; speech-language pathologists; and speech, language and hearing scientists. ASHA's mission is to promote the interest of its members, to provide them with the highest quality services, and to advocate for people with communication disabilities. ASHA's Consumer Affairs Division provides an information and referral service on a broad range of speech, language and hearing disabilities for both children and adults.
For additional information on this topic or other speech, language, or hearing disabilities, contact the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852, 1-800-638-8255 or (301) 897-8682 (Voice or TTY).