The most important factor that must be considered in selecting a hearing aid is the degree of hearing impairment. The number one priority of the hearing aid is to provide proper amplification to make speech understanding possible, and the degree of the hearing loss will play a big roll in determining the type of hearing instrument that will be selected. The more severe the hearing impairment a person has the more power that will be required to effectively treat the hearing loss. Although a small hearing device may be a great cosmetic option, it will not have adequate power, and therefore cannot be used to treat a patient that has a severe hearing loss.
The next factor to consider is the patient’s lifestyle. A person that has a high communication demand, frequently participates in group meetings or group conversations, often spends time in high noise environments, such as restaurants or church, will require more assistance from their hearing aids than an individual that has a lower communication demand. Therefore, a patient with high communication demand will typically need a premium or advanced technology level hearing aids and a patient with a lower communication demand will usually do well with a more basic or entry level hearing aid technology.
There is a great deal of difference between advanced and entry level hearing aid technology. Premium hearing aids are rich in programming and adjustment features, have more advanced noise filtering systems, and automatically adapt their program settings to the patient’s listening environment. Basic hearing aids have less programming features, less noise filtering, and rarely adjust settings based on environmental conditions. Since advanced hearing aids offer more features and control, they can be more precisely adjusted to meet the listening needs of the patient. Basic hearing aids offer less control and programming flexibility, and therefore cannot be tuned as precisely, which can lead to communication breakdown, especially in more challenging communication environments.
Another consideration is which hearing aid manufacture to use. Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular hearing aid that is the “best” or works well for every patient. A hearing aid that serves the communication needs of one patient may not work well for another. Signal processing strategies differ from one manufacture to the next, and some people respond better to different strategies. Just like one person may prefer the sound quality of one loudspeaker to another, people with hearing loss may prefer the sound of one hearing aid over another.
The final issues that need to be considered are individual patient factors, such as manual dexterity, visual acuity, and cognitive ability. These issues are important considerations because hearing aids, even the larger styles, are still relatively small in nature and can be difficult to manipulate. Individuals with poor dexterity or visual acuity may have trouble inserting the hearing aid, adjusting the hearing aid controls, and changing the batteries. Additionally, hearing aids will need periodic maintenance to keep them clean and operating optimally, and these factors may affect an individual’s ability to properly care for their devices. Cognitive ability is also important since elderly patients may forget how to operate and maintain their hearing aids.
Now that you have been given you some insight on the factors considered in the hearing aid selection process, I encourage you to meet with a qualified audiologist to discuss your hearing loss and individual communication needs. Choosing the right hearing aid style and technology level for your hearing loss and individual communications needs is vital. It can have a tremendous impact on your overall satisfaction with you hearing aids and will greatly improve your ability to understand speech and communication with your family and friends.
David Braatz, MD, CCC-A