Buying the best hearing aids on the market isn’t like buying a car or any expensive electronic devices, should anyone tell you. The truth is that cars and electronic devices operate to take you to point a to point b, or the equipment is bought to do the job that you purchased it to do. At least with a new car, you are not worried if the car can’t drive you to places. Your focus is on the amenities and features. Hearing aids, on the other hand, can’t restore your hearing. The best hearing aids on the market, depending on what you buy, may or may not help you hear everything. You’re buying the best tool to help with your hearing loss in everyday situations.
Hearing aids can’t mimic the natural sound processed in our ear. It won’t give you perfect hearing if you’re someone with a severe-profound hearing loss like me. However, the best hearing aids on the market can dramatically improve your ability to hear various sounds. Remember, hearing aids are like a lover. You love them for enriching your life and making you a better person, but, at the same time, they’re not perfect, and they come and go.
Hearing aids are also a significant investment. You will need to know what’s worth it to you and what things you are willing to compromise.
So what should you be looking for in your search for the best hearing aids on the market? Well, truth be told, that’s a decision up to you. Not exactly the answer many people want to hear, but it’s the truth.
The type of hearing loss makes a difference
Hearing loss varies from person to person, depending on where the hearing damage has occurred. People with sensorineural hearing loss, a type of hearing loss where the inner ear has been damaged, hear differently than someone with middle ear damages. Being able to hear has more to do with how well our brains can process and interpret sounds. That’s important to keep in mind when you are searching for the best hearing aids.
Studies have shown that two people who have the same level of hearing loss will have vastly different hearing abilities. One person might hear a conversation entirely, and the other could struggle to make out a word in the same environment. The human body is a complex system. The best hearing aids on the market can’t replicate it yet. However, AI/machine learning is helping us to get closer.
Hearing Aid Brands
The hearing aid market is divided into two parts: the large hearing aid manufacturers, who own the largest market share, and small-medium size manufacturers. The large hearing aid manufacturers are the Walmart and Amazons of the hearing aid world. They are Unitron, Widex, Oticon, Hansaton, Starkey, Phonak, Resound, Bernafon, & Signia. There are six major companies, not nine, as I’ve listed. Manufacturers are buying off their competitions to gain power. Some of these companies become brands to a parent company. You’ll see that Sonova is owned by Unitron and Phonak. Same company but different brand names.
When companies focus more on owning a significant market share, it becomes less about producing quality hearing aids and more about greed. I tell you this to help you keep an open mind in your buying process.
The other part of the market is a small number of manufacturers who are trying to make a name for themselves. In fact, there are hundreds or maybe more hearing aid manufacturers around the world. You and I will probably not know them because many large manufacturers are running hearing clinics. Also, some audiologists or hearing aid dispensers are motivated financially to sell the major hearing aid brands over others. Hence, it is very possible that a Sonova-owned company runs that hearing clinic down your street. This limits the options of the best hearing aids on the market you are exposed to.
I like to compare hearing aid industry similar to the pharmaceutical industry. Hearing aids are classified as a health product in some countries, so the comparisons are valid. Similar to the hearing aid industry, there’s the big pharma; the brands like Bayers, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer, to name a few. They all sell acetylsalicylic acid, known as aspirin to many us. Aspirin is a brand name from Bayers. There are many versions of acetylsalicylic acid products on the market because everybody is different and reacts differently to the product. The same goes for hearing aids. So, how do we go about getting the best hearing aid for ourselves? The first place should be where you are going.
Best Place to Get Hearing Aids
When I first started to wear hearing aids, I was getting my hearing aids paid for by the government. In my country and province, the government supports the cost of hearing aids for children with a hearing loss. They were free, and as a result, it was a take what you can get.
Getting hearing aids from the government has its drawbacks. Our government has a procurement policy that encourages them to pay for products that cost the least but does the job. Some government restricts themselves to a few brands of hearing aids, or they may select a few models for each brand. They might be influenced by one company over another if they were able to get a good deal. The government may agree to exclusive rights to work with certain brands in exchange for lower purchase price from the manufacturer.
In the UK, a study on consumer satisfaction on hearing aid purchasers from the government program v.s. The high street retailer shows that people were more satisfied with a hearing aid from the high-street retailer. The selection of hearing aids didn’t do the job they needed to hear. I am not surprised. The best hearing aid on the market for you can’t come from someone else’s budget or brand selection. Be mindful when you choose to work with government or non-profit hearing aid subsidy programs.
Hearing Clinics (Private Companies)
Hearing clinics or private companies are accessible to the public without any doctors referrals. You can walk in at your own leisure. Because you can walk in without a doctors referral, you need to be aware that not everyone selling you hearing aids are audiologists. Audiologists are the highest trained profession for hearing health. They are not surgeons, but they can diagnose hearing issues. Some clinics may only have trained salespeople to help you purchase your hearing aids. These salespeople can be known as hearing aid dispensers, hearing instrument practitioners/specialists, or hearing aid dealers.
The set up is similar to buying glasses or doctors. You have the optometrist or the doctor, who can examine the eye or the health issue but are not surgeons. Then you also have the sales staff, who can help you select eyeglasses for you, or the pharmacist you can prescribe a medicine for you.
You need to know who is behind the sales of a hearing aid. They may be limited with what they know and what they can do legally within their license. Asking for an audiologist is an excellent way to tell if the private clinic has one or not. If not, at least you are aware of who you are dealing with and the medical expertise that they will or will not have.
Choosing your hearing clinics
I can tell you from my own experience, there are great hearing aid specialists, who are much better than audiologist. I look for clinics that:
1. can accommodate and sell any hearing aid brand,
2. are continually learning and improving their knowledge on new hearing aids in the market,
3. can understand and interpret your specific issues with a hearing aid and match a hearing aid that will be able to solve those issues
4. are patience enough to take their time to find the best hearing aids for you
5. have a repair program on-site. You want a clinic that is skilled in diagnosing and repairing hearing aids quickly. During the span of my hearing aid’s life, I will need to make at least 7-8 emergency visits. I can’t wait for weeks without hearing aids. It’s tough to own spare hearing aid. It’s expensive to own one. For me, hearing aids are my life, without them, I am not able to do anything or go anywhere.
If you got all five, you have a winner.
Hearing Aids Cost
With prices ranging from $1000 – $9000 for pairs of hearing aids, they are the third most expensive item you’ll pay next to your house and car. Remember that more expensive hearing aids do not mean better quality. In my experience, more expensive hearing aids means more features. More features could be streaming to your television via Bluetooth, t-coil to listen on the telephone, noise filtering, or fall detection. If you all you want is just to hear, like me, sometimes the extras are not worth it.
If you’ve lost your hearing later in life, you are going to notice right away, the sound is not a realistic interpretation of the real world. It’s artificial, and it can be bothersome. Even I noticed the sound is very different from one brand to another. It’s a fact that we have to live with. However, time and repetitive usage will help us adjust to the new sound. Our brain becomes accustomed to the sound over time.
Set your criteria
When I buy hearing aids, I am looking to hear people around me about 3-4 meters away from me in a quiet room. I’m looking to listen to people next to me in a noisy restaurant. I may not hear every single word, but with lip reading and some sounds, my goal is to be able to participate in a conversation. I haven’t found any hearing aids that do all the job that I liked.
I’d like to hear people behind me when I’m walking or sitting. I like to know when someone calls my name from across the street. I value listening when an appliance is on, or water is running in another room. I don’t care to know sound from nature or any soft sounds that exist. For me, it’s about interacting with people and knowing what is going on around me
You should not be buying hearing aids if you can’t hear what you want to hear. Your audiologist will be able to tell you what’s possible to restore based on your hearing loss. However, what’s essential for you to understand is very personal and should be a deciding factor on your hearing aids. That’s a decision that you will need to make.
This leads me to the next point, many hearing aid manufacturers have put a lot of effort on speech recognition algorithm in the hearing aids. These are the programs that can identify a human voice and amplify voices and quiet everything else. Sometimes, it gets it wrong, and you’re hearing people you won’t want to hear. It can be a distraction, but modern hearing aids are improving slowly over time.
Another thing is that most hearing aids have more than one microphones. Some microphones are directional, blocking sounds behind you to prioritize what’s in front. You know you have them when you are walking down a busy street, and you think there’s no car behind. Just as a vehicle enters your peripheral vision and whisking past by loudly, you get startled by the sound that seems to come from nowhere.
Hearing Aids Damages
The best hearing aid is one that can handle your lifestyle. Moisture and water can build up over the microphones and inside your hearing aids. Filters, which are placed on the hearing aids over a microphone, do a good job, but they are porous and breathable materials. They can only help with wax or dirt that builds up over the hearing aids.
Most hearing aids are not waterproof. I’ve been waiting thirty years for hearing aids that are waterproof for a severe-profound hearing loss. Another problem is if you work out often or play sports, there is a considerable chance that you can ruin your hearing aids. You need to look for sturdy hearing aids to keep the life of your hearing aids longer and reduce the damage.
One way to reduce the moisture is to purchase a dry-aid machine or container. I’ve gone through so many products and devices. The one that can do the job is not the expensive $200 machine but the jar with moisture absorption balls. I am curious to try pure rice. I hear people who drop their cellphone in the toilet or in water can recover their phone by putting it in a bag of rice.
Location and weather conditions can affect how well your hearing aid works. Your hearing aid’s lifespan will not respond the same way in dry California as it would be in humid Jamaica. It’s imperative to invest in sturdy hearing aids made to handle sweats and damp places.
The last factor that you need to consider when you’re buying your hearing aids is the type of environment that you expose yourself to. Are you in a noisy office, a quiet space at home, do you go out to restaurants, talk on the phone, or visit quiet places where people whisper, watch TV, do you like the movies or theater? Your lifestyle is just equally important in the decision. You don’t want to buy a hearing aid that can’t help you enjoy doing the things that you enjoy doing.
Make sure you are testing your hearing aid in situations where you enjoy spending your time the most. Use the trial period or the time before you can return the hearing aids to test your hearing aids. Do not agree to purchase your hearing aid if you only been at the hearing clinic with them on. The walls, ceilings, and carpet are there for a reason: to help you hear at the best. To create a perfect hearing environment for someone with a hearing loss. It’s not the real world. Make sure you try them out of the building.
Lastly, the best hearing aids should enhance your life and not hold you back. If you are struggling to participate in things that you enjoy. That is you are struggling to communicate one to one in a quiet environment, at the very least, you need a better solution, and shouldn’t take anything less. We, humans, are social creatures. Human interactions should not be taken away from us, and expensive hearing aid shouldn’t stop us.
It’s essential that you continue to stay true to who you are and look for the best hearing aid that can meet you all the way or close enough.