If you’ve decided to stop putting off getting a hearing aid—great! Hearing loss can be isolating and can lead to serious health problems including depression. It is even associated with dementia. However, with so many kinds of hearing aids, how do you get what you need? Here’s how: Our list of the most important questions to ask so you get the device that works best for you—whether you buy your aid from your audiologist or from a retailer.
What to ask before buying a hearing aid…
What type of hearing aid should I get? Your audiologist will take into account which kind of aid best suits your needs according to your degree of hearing loss, whether you need an aid for one or both ears and your lifestyle. Choices include analog or digital…and either behind-the-ear (BTE), in-the-ear (ITE), in-the-canal (ITC) or completely-in-canal (CIC). Your audiologist will also point out the usefulness and drawbacks of various features—such as channels, directionality, background-noise reduction, speech enhancement, feedback suppression, wind suppression, etc.—and help you figure out which you really need.
Is the cost covered by my insurance? Most insurance policies do not cover hearing aids, which typically cost $1,000 to $4,000 each. However, your hearing specialist may be able to work with your insurance company to get your aid(s) at least partially covered. He/she also may know about discounts, rebates or payment plans that may be available to you. For instance, if you’re an eligible veteran the US Department of Veterans Affairs offers hearing aids, repairs and batteries for free. Find other organizations through the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 800-241-1044, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I try out a device before buying it? Ask your audiologist or the retailer where you purchase your aid if it comes with a trial period (usually 30 to 90 days) during which you can return a device for a refund. Also ask if you can test more than one hearing aid during the trial period. And check the warranty. Most offer onetime loss, maintenance and repairs for one year. Some manufacturers offer two- or three-year extended warranties—a good idea, since an average lifespan for aids is six years. Ask if coverage includes loaner aids while repairs are being made. Another option: Purchase coverage from a private hearing aid insurance company…or check your homeowner’s policy to see if hearing aids can be added.
What if my aid needs adjustments? Your hearing aid will need to be adjusted as your hearing changes. Ask your audiologist if he/she can do regular adjustments and any minor servicing and repairs—even if you’ve purchased your aid elsewhere—and if you can drop in without an appointment for unexpected problems, such as if your device suddenly malfunctions or becomes uncomfortable. If your audiologist can’t or won’t do adjustments and repairs, ask where to go for these services. (If the convenience of being able to drop in on your audiologist is important to you, you may want to go to a different audiologist.)
What will batteries cost, and how often would I need to change them? “Zinc-air” button-shaped disposable batteries are the most common kind used for hearing aids. Ask your audiologist what kind of batteries your aid uses and how often they’ll need to be changed. Batteries typically last three to 20 days, depending on the power needed for your device and the number of hours the device is used. Their cost averages about $30 to $150 a year. You can buy batteries from your audiologist’s office, at drugstores and online—and at big-box stores, such as Costco.
What do I need to do to care for my hearing aid? Ask your audiologist how to protect and keep your aid in top working order. For instance, you’ll need to keep it away from heat and moisture and not use hairspray or other hair products while wearing it. He/she will also show you how to regularly clean your aid, and may either sell you a cleaning kit that may include a brush and small pick to remove earwax and dust…or tell you where to buy one. Kits are available online and at retail stores such as Walmart. He/she can also advise you whether you should get a dehumidifier to remove moisture (which corrodes hearing aids)…or a special sleeve that fits over your device to protect it from dirt and sweat when you wear it while exercising or during outdoor activities.