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.
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.
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.
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?
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...
- Schedule a 30-minute adjustment with your hearing provider.
- At the appointment, have the hearing professional setup your hearing aid to the latest fitting formula using a Real Ear Measures (REM) speech mapping (programmed to power-dome rather than open-fit dome style). NAL-NL2 is the latest and most highly regarded fitting formula in the industry. REM speech mapping ensures the acoustics of your individual ear canals are taken into account in the formula. Using this as your starting point, adjust as necessary.
- If the sound is unpleasing you may need to acclimatize yourself to the new sounds or require a minor adjustment. Ask the hearing professional to extend the range of the hearing aid's volume control, to setup the hearing aid's adaptation manager to ease you into the new sound setup over many weeks, or to make slight adjustments to the frequency response.
- Add a greater level of speech-in-noise capability to your hearing aid by enabling more adaptive directionality and noise-reduction. Do this by either by asking your hearing professional to adjust your default/primary hearing aid program, or by adding an additional, dedicated "speech-in-noise" hearing aid program.
- Purchase both a set of open-fit domes and a set of power-domes. Practice switching between the two, listening to the current soundscape with each. If you're attending a noisy event, switch to the power domes. You'll experience the utmost in directionality and noise reduction, and may be pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of your hearing aids in these challenging environments. For less challenging environments, switch to open-fit domes and experience the utmost in comfort without sacrificing sound clarity.
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.