Let's talk about why your open-fit hearing aids may not be giving you the best results. We'll discuss hearing aid comfort vs. hearing aid utility and give you a few simple, cost-effective steps you can take to dramatically improve your hearing aid experience.
When misinformation abounds, consumers always lose. Such is the case in the current hearing aid marketplace. Hundreds of thousands of people with hearing loss continue to spend large sums of money on hearing solutions which may give them little to no real-world benefit.
The vast majority of hearing aids sold today are behind-the-ear, receiver-in-canal (RIC), open-fit hearing aids. They have an appealing sleek design, they're physically comfortable, and they don't give consumers that "plugged ears" feeling. Sold! But wait one second! Is comfort the primary reason for purchasing hearing aids in the first place? Isn't the primary purpose of your hearing aid to make it possible for you to hear better?
Consider the tale of the farmer who needs a new bucket. He meets a merchant who informs him of a "new fangled" pail that can get the job done with less effort. As expected, the farmer expresses great interest. He's shown a shiny, new bucket with a one-inch hole in the bottom of it. Impulsively, the farmer buys the bucket and takes it home realizing, to his delight, that what the merchant said was true; his work will be forever easier. As the farmer fills the bucket with water and carries it to the barn, he is struck with the clear evidence that the closer he gets to the barn, the lighter his load becomes. The hapless farmer is delighted with his purchase. That is, until his annoyed significant other reminds him of the real purpose of a pail, in the first place.
Sound familiar? Let's compare the shopping experience of the comical farmer to that of today's hearing aid consumer. Hearing aid retailers advertise a new style of hearing aid that is the most comfortable on the market. This new hearing aid, an open-fit hearing aid, has holes in it that offer increased comfort to the wearer as compared with other hearing aid styles. Open-fit hearing aids allow air to pass through the ear canals to the eardrums which may reduce ear canal itch and the "plugged" feeling, (or the "occlusion effect"), especially noticeable when speaking.
But, truth be told, just like the farmer with the leaky bucket, something valuable is being lost - sound. In the presence of large vent holes sound enters and exits at will. Why is this a problem? Put simply, "hearing better" requires that: 1) desired sounds be directed to your eardrum and 2) undesired sounds be restricted from entering your ear canal. The more holes or vents, the less these two functions can be performed, and the less you will actually "hear better".
To be fair, open-fit hearing aids do provide some benefit for some in certain settings. They offer high-frequency clarity which results in a measure of hearing improvement in simple, relatively quiet and managed, settings. But real-world, chaotic, noisy settings are another matter, entirely.
In an open-fit hearing solution, all but the highest frequency sounds are presented to the wearer, and no noise reduction capability exists. As low frequency sounds tend to mask higher frequency sounds, desired sounds become even more difficult to hear. Due to their inability to present and restrict sounds, the utility and value of open-fit hearing aids is lower. In complex environments, an open-fit hearing aid may prove to be no more effective than a bucket with a one-inch hole.
Yet, although they offer less objective value, open-fit hearing aids are not cheaper than other hearing aids (apart from a small custom-mold fee). Extended high frequency response, perhaps the only feature that open-fit hearing aid wearers can notice, comes at a premium price. Many open-fit hearing aid consumer pay a premium price for advanced features that they can't fully use (i.e. directionality, noise reduction) in order to acquire the one feature they can use.
There may be other, perhaps less noticeable, "holes in your bucket", depending on which hearing clinic you have chosen as your hearing care partner. The majority of hearing clinics have "holes" in their processes. Much like the physical holes we've discussed, their non-adherence to certain critical best practices results in a simlar end, that of trading hearing aid effectiveness for comfort.
Hearing aids are mini computers which require programming by a hearing professional. When programming a hearing aid for first use, the majority of hearing professionals perform the following steps: They enter hearing test results (or hearing thresholds) into a computer, click a few buttons and, presto, the new hearing aid is ready for use. Is it really? What just happened here? What didn't happen?
In a nutshell, what happened is that the hearing aid was programmed to the manufacturer's software "first fit" setting, which typically results in the consumer being "underfit", or given less sound than is optimal for hearing desired speech. This is not in keeping with best practices for hearing aid fitting. Consequently, the last remaining advanced feature open-fit hearing aid consumers can benefit from, high frequency response, has been rendered less effective.
Sadly, the hearing aid wearer's initial comfort has been given such a high priority that their new open-fit hearing aids have been rendered virtually ineffective. Could this explain why 50% of consumers who have purchased hearing aids are unhappy with them? Could this be a contributing factor as to why so many with hearing loss choose not to purchase them, believing they won't be effective?
It is up to you, the informed consumer, to make your intentions clear to your hearing professional. Tell them that you're not willing to sacrifice hearing aid effectiveness for comfort. Tell them you understand there are trade-offs and are willing to find a balance. Tell them you want best practice hearing care which must include Real Ear Measures (REM) and other evidence-based practices. Read more about best practices for hearing care here...
These are all very reasonable requests. Each request moves you closer to a more satisfactory long-term hearing aid solution. Your long-term satisfaction should be the top priority of a quality hearing clinic. After hearing your requests, it's very possible your hearing professional may be both surprised and delighted to hear that you want to play a more active role in your rehabilitation efforts. However, if this is not the case, consider a quality independent hearing clinic...
If you own an open-fit hearing aids, here are some steps you can take that may increase the effectiveness of your hearing aids, improve your ability to process speech in noise, and allow you to achieve a higher overall satisfaction from your hearing aid and solution:
Whether you're shopping for a bucket or shopping for a hearing aid, understanding the primary purpose of each is key to achieving long-term satisfaction with your purchase. While comfort may be an important consideration, maximum utility should always be the ultimate goal. Utility is a key driver of value. Make hearing aid effectiveness and utility your number one goal when purchasing any hearing aid for yourself or a loved one. To ensure your getting the highest value hearing solution, consider a quality, independent hearing clinic...
Everyone knows someone with hearing loss or hearing aids. So, share this post with everyone, including friends or family of those who may benefit from the information. It may change their life for the better.