The first thing you need to understand about hearing aids is that they are not “one size fits all.” If you’ve spent any time researching hearing aids or talking to an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, you know there are hundreds of hearing aid models to choose from. There are so many models, styles, and features (not to mention a huge range of prices), that choosing the right hearing aid for your needs can be very overwhelming.
That’s why your hearing healthcare provider is there to give you an exam and guide you through the process to find the hearing aid that fits your unique hearing needs at the right price. In fact, just because a hearing aid is more expensive, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you. Conversely, buying a less expensive hearing aid available may not help if you need more advanced features to address your specific loss.
So, which one is right for you? Well, it depends. Picking the right hearing aid depends on your specific hearing loss, lifestyle, and the sounds that are most important for you to hear.
Hearing Aid Levels
First of all, it’s important to understand that, regardless of the hearing aid manufacturer, hearing aids are available at many different technology levels, but most of them fall into a basic, standard, or premium category. It is important to understand that the different levels do not represent the quality of the devices, only the number and types of features available in each model.
Typically, as hearing aids are developed, the most advanced features are introduced into premium-level devices first—and they’re the most expensive. However, as newer or more refined features are implemented, the older features trickle down to the standard- and basic-level devices.
Your Unique Hearing Loss
Everyone hears differently, so it’s important to talk to your provider about a hearing aid that will address your unique needs. Since they know your hearing strengths and weaknesses, they can guide you toward a hearing aid that is the right fit for you. For example, your unique hearing loss is important to keep in mind when looking at the number of channels available in a hearing aid.
Older hearing aids only had one channel, meaning that the entire range of hearing—from low to high frequencies—was amplified to the same degree. So when you turned up the volume, everything got louder equally.
As digital hearing aids became widely available and signal processing became more advanced, this range could be divided into smaller sections. This means that a provider could adjust the hearing aids so that low-frequency sounds got more of a “boost” than high-frequency sounds or vice versa—depending on the person’s unique hearing loss profile. This is great news for those with worse hearing in particular frequencies, because the problem areas can now be amplified more than others. So, instead of one volume control, digital hearing aids with multiple channels are like tuning an equalizer on a stereo.
Modern hearing aids have anywhere from about 4 channels up to 24 or more channels available in some premium models. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone has to have the most channels possible. An individual with hearing loss that is the same across all frequencies may do just fine with a basic-level hearing aid that has fewer channels, because they need the same amount of amplification across the entire range of hearing
On the other hand, someone with hearing loss that is normal in the low pitches and gets much worse in the higher ranges may need a hearing aid with more channels in order to more smoothly trace where they need amplification. Other features work in the same way. Different people need different features in order to hear optimally.
Lifestyle plays a big part in the type of hearing aid you might need and the features that will be best for you. For example, an individual who works long hours, spends lots of time on the phone, and needs to be able to understand conversation in large meetings has different needs than the person who spends more time at home, who doesn’t use the phone much, and who spends most of their time in quieter environments.
Certain features, like advanced speech enhancement or noise reduction, may make more or less of a difference to you based on the activities you participate in most. It’s best to talk to your provider about which features are more critical for your unique hearing loss, so you can make an informed decision about your hearing health. That way you won’t end up overpaying for a hearing aid with features you won’t use, or underpaying for a hearing aid that won’t fit your lifestyle.
What You Want to Hear
Another important factor to consider is the exact sounds you want to hear. For example, it would be easy to assume that someone with only a slight hearing loss, who is generally in very easy listening environments, would do well with a basic-level hearing aid. However, an individual in that same situation who plays guitar, may want a hearing aid with advanced features that provides more clarity, so they can still enjoy a favorite hobby.
Overall, there are a number of factors to consider when purchasing a hearing aid, from price to lifestyle to your specific hearing needs. That’s why a provider is so important. The right providers can give you an exam and help guide you to the hearing aids that are not only right for your ears, but will also fit your budget and your lifestyle.