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Shopping for a New Hearing Aid – An Update

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.

1.  T-coils
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.

T-coil Installed

Some hearing aids give you a choice of
T = t-coil only
or
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.

THLswitch

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.

   Hearing Aids buttons

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

connectline-solution

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).

images     DAI boot smaller          DAI cable smaller

For more information about hearing aids see:
“Common Styles of Hearing Aids”

“Introduction to Hearing Aids”

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3 Responses

  1. Great list. I would like to add a comment about remote controls. If considering a key chain version, check to see if the program and volume buttons are sufficiently recessed to protect them from being accidentally pressed by contact with things in your pocket or purse. I have the Widex Clear with remote and the is a regular (though minor) irritation to me.

  2. […] The inductive neckloop above is a “generic” neckloop that will work with any model of hearing aids (that have t-coils).  Some hearing aid manufacturers make their own “proprietary” neckloops that only work with their hearing aids.  For more information about these, see my blog post, “Shopping for a Hearing Aid.” […]

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