I have previously posted information about shopping for a hearing aid which I divided into several consecutive posts. I have had so many people ask my advice on what hearing aid to buy that I am re-posting this information in one long post. I have updated and modified the original.
Please note: I am not an audiologist. These are my opinions based on my experience, my preferences and my research. Always check with a qualified audiologist or hearing aid specialist to find the best hearing aid for your hearing loss and your needs.
Shopping for a New Hearing Aid
We are bombarded with ads for hearing aids that say, “our smallest hearing aid,” “completely invisible,” “tiny,” “discrete,” “inconspicuous,” “no one will know you are wearing hearing aids,” etc. etc. These ads infuriate me! They are reinforcing the idea that wearing a hearing aid is something to be ashamed of, something to keep hidden and private. What these ads are NOT telling you is that “small” is not going to give you the most benefit out of your hearing aids. When shopping for a hearing aid, know what features you are looking for. Many features are not available in those “tiny” hearing aids!
Important features to look for:
1. t-coil – with manual switch, not automatic
2. volume control – on the hearing aid, not just on a remote
3. program buttons – also on the hearing aid
4. wireless connectivity – between hearing aids and with other devices
5. Bluetooth compatible – especially if you use a cell phone
6. directional microphones – to help in noisy environments
7. DAI – direct audio input
You may not need all these features, but should know your options. There are other features in the inner workings of the hearing aid (feedback reduction, noise suppression, frequency shifting, wind block, etc.) but I am only describing the features the user can control and interact with.
I’ve already covered the importance of getting a t-coil in previous blog posts. Of all these features, this is the most important to me. Don’t buy a hearing aid without a t-coil!
See my website for more on this topic. http://www.heargear.net/t-coils.
The t-coil must be manual, not automatic, which means you can turn it on and off yourself using a switch or program button. You must have a manual t-coil in order to use your t-coil in a room with a hearing loop or to use a neckloop.
Some hearing aids give you a choice of
T = t-coil only
T + M = t-coil and microphone
T-coil only means you can completely turn off the microphone (muting the background noise) and just hear what is being transmitted to the t-coil.
T-coil and microphone means you can keep your microphone on while using the t-coil. I like having both the “T” and the “T+M” settings.
2. Volume Control
It is nice to have a remote control, but I also want my volume control on my hearing aid. This is a very important feature for me. When in a group situation, one person’s voice may be softer than another’s and I can quickly adjust my hearing aid. If I had to rummage around in my purse for my remote control, I would miss half of the conversation. If you have difficulty with handling small buttons and controls, then a remote control is great.
3. Program Buttons
Just like the volume control, I want the program buttons to be quickly available. The program control button lets you switch to different programs set up by your audiologist. Typically “program 1” is your regular program that you use most of time. This is the program that is on when you first put on your hearing aids. The number of programs available varies, but I recommend getting at least 4 programs. You might have a program for noisy environments (which controls the directional microphones), a program for your t-coil and/or a program for listening to music. There may be other types of programs available. When shopping for a hearing aid, find out how many programs the hearing aid is able to store and discuss the options with your audiologist.
4. Wireless Connectivity – This term refers to two different types of connectivity
a. The hearing aids should communicate with each other. My volume control is on the left. When I adjust it, it automatically adjusts the right hearing aid, too. My program control button is on the right. I only have to use this one button to change the program in both hearing aids.
b. Some hearing aid manufacturers have created devices to help you “stream” sound directly into your hearing aids from audio sources such a cell phone, a land line, television, computers and personal amplifiers. I think these are VERY nice options to have. Here is a list of the brands I am currently aware of that come with some kind of streaming accessory.
Phonak – SmartLink (FM) & ComPilot (Bluetooth)
Oticon – Streamer & ConnectLine
Siemans – Tek & miniTek
Resound – Unite accessories
Rexton – Mini Blu RCU & SoundGate
Unitron – uDirect & uTV
Widex – Dex & Scola FM
Starkey – SurfLink Mobile & SurfLink Media
5. Bluetooth Compatible
Bluetooth allows you to talk hands-free on a cell phone and listen to music, podcasts, or audio books from a smart phone. You can purchase a Bluetooth transmitter to send sound from your computer, TV or land line phone into your hearing aids. No hearing aids have Bluetooth built in to them as they would require too much battery power, so a neckloop or other intermediary device is needed to use Bluetooth.
6. Directional Microphones
Directional microphones can help you hear better in noise as it amplifies the sounds in front of you (the person you are speaking to) while lowering the volume of other sounds. You activate the directional microphone by changing the program button on your hearing aids.
7. DAI – Direct Auditory Input
DAI allows the hearing aid to be directly connected to an external audio source. This may be done with a 3-prong cord and a “sleeve” or a “boot” that fits onto the bottom of a BTE (behind-the-ear) hearing aid. Phonak makes an FM receiver that is compatible with all hearing instrument brands and models (and can be used with Phonak FM transmitters).
For more information about hearing aids see:
“Common Styles of Hearing Aids”
“Introduction to Hearing Aids”
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