I don’t know about you but up until recently, when I thought about hearing aids, I’d think “those are for old people.” My dad is 92 and he only recently got hearing aids although he probably could have used them sooner. Maybe he wanted to avoid the “old people” stigma.
I’ll turn 62 this year. Over the past few years, I’ve found myself asking people to repeat themselves because I didn’t understand what they said. And lately, I’ve started turning on sub-titles when we’re watching TV – especially if the actors have accents. Has that happened to you?
As some of you know, my first career was in the music business. I was a Recording Engineer. My hearing has always been really important to me. To this day, I make listening to great, well-produced music a priority. I have an incredible “Stereo” in my office and I give it a good workout daily.
On a side note: young people today, who only listen to music on laptop speakers or use in-ear “headphones,” like AirPods are really missing out. Many of them don’t even realize that music is recorded in stereo. It’s one of my pet peeves 😬.
I’m still a critical listener today, evaluating recordings, production, and sound quality. Over the last few years, I’ve started to notice that it’s harder for me to identify some parts of a recording. For example, where I used to easily find the rhythm guitar parts, sometimes I really need to turn up the volume and focus really hard to find them!
All this to say… it’s not unusual, even for those of us on the younger side of Boomerhood, to begin to notice the effects of age on our hearing. As unpleasant as hearing aids may sound to us, they can be incredibly helpful. For some, they can be life-changing.
What Are Hearing Aids?
Hearing is one of our most essential senses, but it can be damaged in a number of ways. Things like prolonged exposure to loud noises, certain medications, and even natural aging contribute to ear hair cells’ damage, leading to hearing loss.
Baby Boomers are often especially at risk of hearing loss because of aging. Additionally, as they have more medical conditions – many of them chronic – and are more likely to be on multiple medications, each with an extensive list of potential side effects that can affect hearing.
This is where hearing aids help. They are a medical device designed to help those with hearing loss by making sound audible. While hearing aids won’t restore normal hearing, they are still effective enough to make all the difference to Boomers who are finding it harder to hear.
How Do Hearing Aids Work?
There are two main technologies used in hearing aids: analog and digital. Analog hearing aids were the first to come about and aren’t as advanced as digital hearing aids. However, they both still follow the same principles but differ in the actual mechanism they use.
In both, the sound is received via a microphone, which is then converted into electrical signals. These signals are passed to an amplifier, which increases the signals power, and finally sends them to the ear via a speaker. This process is how the user’s hearing ability increases.
Since a standard microphone is used in analog hearing aids, they cannot differentiate between foreground and background noise. They also can’t isolate specific types of sound either. This means that they amplify all sounds equally, which can be a drawback in certain settings.
However, some analog models do offer a range of listening modes to cater to different environments. And some users report a “warmer” sound quality with analog hearing aids because there is no digital processing occurring.
Other advantages of analog include longer battery life, they are easier to set up, and they are typically less expensive than their digital counterparts.
Digital hearing aids have a Digital Signal Processor (DSP), which is essentially a mini-computer chip that reads and manipulates sound waves to enhance the overall experience.
Digital models have other added benefits, such as multiple listening modes, better adaptation to each user’s hearing needs, and more ergonomics as they are smaller and lighter.
Digital models are less prone to feedback noise, and they continuously monitor the environment and optimize the sound quality accordingly. However, they are more expensive than analog hearing aids.
It is important to note that you must allow sufficient time to get accustomed to your hearing aid. This is especially true if you’ve never used one before, or if you’ve switched styles, or if your hearing loss has progressed.
However, if you feel something is off with the fit or sound quality, don’t be afraid to raise concerns with your physician or try adjusting it until you find the right balance.
Types of Hearing Aids
There are several types of hearing aids. The options can be overwhelming for some Boomers. It is difficult to know where to start and how to find the best one for you, so here is a breakdown of the six main types and their pros and cons.
Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aids
BTE has traditionally been the most common type and is suitable for all ages and hearing loss levels. It is hooked over the top of the user’s ear and remains behind the ear. There is also a custom earpiece made that sits in the ear canal, which connects to the outer part via a tube.
Newer designs of this style are available that are smaller and more streamlined. This style also has an excellent capacity for amplification compared to others, but at the same time, it may pick up more background noise.
Here is the most popular Behind-the-ear hearing aid available on Amazon. It has over 2200 reviews averaging 3.8 – far more than any other product they sell.
Open Fit Hearing Aids
Open fit is a variation of the BTE style above except with a thin tube that keeps the ear canal open, and encouraging low-frequency sounds to enter and allow for better amplification of high-frequency sounds naturally. This is especially suited to those with mild to moderate hearing damage.
This style is more discreet, has increased noise cancellation, and does not plug the ear. This style makes your voice sound better and clearer to you, which can help with communication. However, some users find it is harder to adjust because of its small parts.
In-the-Ear (ITE) Hearing Aids
ITE aids are custom made, and the user has two options: full shell or half shell. The former fills most of the outer ear, whereas the latter only fills the lower part. Both forms can help those with mild to severe hearing loss.
Because ITE aids sit on the outside, they’re very easy to handle and often come with a range of additional features. Users report high levels of comfort, and battery life is long-lasting.
But given their small size, ITE are considerably less powerful than BTE aids. And they still are susceptible to background noise, and earwax can clog the speaker.
In-the-Canal (ITC) Hearing Aids
In-the-canal is a subtype of ITE aids that rests partly in the canal and is custom made. It’s best for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. Due to the positioning, they are a discreet option and are less susceptible to wind noise.
Since they are custom made, they have a comfortable fit and do not require constant adjusting as they stay put. Many models have directional microphones which can help improve the sound quality.
However, they are prone to clog, and it is hard to find models with some of the features found on larger models.
Completely-in-Canal (CIC) Hearing Aids
CIC is another type of custom hearing aid made to be placed inside the ear canal. These models work best for those with only mild to moderate hearing damage.
This style is incredibly discreet, but as a result, volume control and additional features are limited. Its positioning allows for better wind noise and microphone feedback reduction, which improves sound quality and clarity.
On the flip side, its positioning means it is at risk of damage from moisture and wax build-up. As it is a small device, it has small batteries, which means their lifespan is reduced. Some users also struggle with handling such small parts.
Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) Hearing Aids
This RIC style is very similar to the BTE variant except instead of a tube; a wire connects the pieces. This type of hearing aid is also known as a mini-BTE hearing aid.
This style also has a smaller outer earpiece, which makes it more discreet. Users have good sound control with reduced distortion and a better overall experience.
But the speaker is prone to clogging by earwax, and its amplification capacity is limited. It is a good option for those with mild to severe hearing loss.
Things to Consider When Shopping For a Hearing Aid
Now that you have an overview of the various styles, you still need to know which style and then which individual model best suits your hearing needs and lifestyle. Here are some essential things to consider when purchasing a hearing aid.
First and foremost, get a check-up done to assess your hearing. The results help inform your decision on which style to get. Some styles are better suited to different degrees of hearing loss, and you want to get the best match possible! Always consult a physician if you are unsure or need guidance.
Next, think about what matters most to you. Things that users commonly consider include appearance, comfort, additional features, and ease of use and handling.
Now you know what to look for, browse different brands, and see what models they offer. Hopefully, you can find one that ticks all your boxes! If not, consider if you’re willing to compromise on a particular area in favor of another.
Before committing, ask about a trial period. This is important because a hearing aid can become like an additional limb to its user, so comfort and fit are key. Also, as mentioned earlier, you need time to adjust to the hearing aid before reaching a final decision. A trial period allows you to do that without losing out on all your money if it’s not a good match!
Make sure you read all the terms and conditions of their trial period policy and ask for clarification in writing if something seems unclear. Some brands will only offer a partial refund, so it’s best to make sure everything is crystal clear before committing to a purchase.
Another key thing to inquire about is the warranty. Does the company provide one free of charge with all their products, or do you have the option to purchase a warranty at an added cost?
Again, read the fine print of their warranty policy to see how long it is, what parts of the hearing aid are covered, and what sort of damage is covered under the policy.
You can also consider your future hearing needs and see if your chosen hearing aid has the capacity to increase its power. This means you will still be able to use it even if your hearing declines further.
Price can be an essential factor to consider when shopping for a hearing aid. Bear in mind that there may be costs for things like remote controls, accessories, and fees. Some health insurance policies cover the price, but some do not (see below for more information.)
Be aware of brands that claim to restore your hearing ability to normal or models that offer 100% elimination of background noise. It is better to get a good hearing aid with realistic expectations instead of one making lofty claims but fails to deliver.
Does My Medical Insurance Cover Hearing Aids?
In short, it depends. Some insurance policies do cover hearing aids – either the full cost or part of it – but some do not offer any coverage at all, so it’s always best to review the details of your policy and contact the insurer for further clarification.
If your policy does not cover hearing aids and you’re struggling with the cost, you should check if you’re eligible to receive financial support from a charity. Look up non-profits in your area and contact them to inquire about what help they can offer.
Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs may be able to help you get your hearing aid at no cost if you’re a veteran, so this is definitely an avenue worth exploring for Boomers who have served in any branch of the military.