In Health issues on Wednesday 21st Oct, 2020

Hearing aid tech: The secrets of buying smarter and getting a better deal

Hear all the sounds that matter to you, without paying more than necessary, by going into the purchase of a pair of hearing aids armed with the facts.

Buying hearing aids can be tricky. Not only are there many types of technology to choose from, the techy jargon used in most product descriptions make them hard to compare, especially on price. No wonder almost everyone knows someone who’s spent loads on hearing aids, only to have the devices spend more time in the bedside drawer than in their ears because they’re just not right.

Kathryn Launchbury, a senior audiologist with 13 years’ experience, joined Specsavers Audiology in 2017 because of its commitment to ensuring its hearing care customers get the right hearing aids for the right price through total transparency on its products and prices.

Like Specsavers Audiology, Kathryn wants all Australians to be confident they understand exactly what they’re getting when they buy hearing aids, so she spoke frankly to Starts at 60 about how to tell the difference between a sneaky sales tactic and an expert recommendation by an audiology professional, plus how to make the most of government assistance on hearing aid purchases.

If I suspect I have hearing loss and decide to have it checked, what happens?

I can’t speak for all companies, but at Specsavers Audiology your journey starts with a hearing screening that you can get done for free at the same time as your eye test in most of our stores. The next step, if you need it, is a free, 15-minute hearing check with an audiology professional. It’s easy to book an appointment online at your closest store.

In the hearing check, the audiology professional will go over your hearing screening results and open a discussion on whether you or your family believe you’re having hearing difficulties, or if you feel you’d like some improvement with your hearing. The audiology professional will also check your ears for wax.

Based on the findings in the hearing check, it may be recommended that you attend a full diagnostic hearing assessment. In this 60-minute appointment, further testing will be done to assess the pressure of your ears and we’ll take photos of your ear canals and ear drums. You’ll also complete a comprehensive hearing test to determine if the hearing nerves are damaged, and undergo speech testing to indicate the difficulties you have following conversation.

This sounds like a lot, but if hearing loss is detected in the hearing check, it’s important to understand the cause, and where in the ear the hearing is being affected, because this will determine the most appropriate action going forwards.

We want to be absolutely sure that hearing aids are what’s needed – if there’s a medical problem causing the hearing loss, then we want to see that treated, not covered up by the use of a hearing aid!

The majority of customers we see do have nerve damage, which is unfortunately permanent and requires hearing aids. However, everyone who is booked for a full diagnostic assessment is given information about Specsavers Audiology and our services, plus our range of hearing aids and their prices so they can make an informed decision.

If hearing aids are recommended, what can I expect to pay?

If we’re really honest, a lack of transparency on cost is one of the big reasons why people don’t really trust hearing care providers. Hearing aid pricing is rarely readily available and most companies don’t advertise their prices – they will only give you pricing on a limited range of devices after you attend an appointment.

In 2017, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reported that hearing aids were being sold for up to $15,000 – that’s more than three times the cost of our top-of-the-range, Advance Elite hearing aids!

At Specsavers Audiology, we believe you should know the price of all our hearing aids before coming to an appointment, so we have brochures available in store and prices are published on our website. The Specsavers Advance range of hearing aids start at $1,495 for a pair and go up to $3,995 for a pair of rechargeable hearing aids with Bluetooth and other cutting-edge technology.

If you qualify for the government’s Hearing Services Program (HSP), the standard-level hearing aids come at no cost to you and, as an example, the HSP can cut the price of a pair of the latest technology hearing aids from the Advance range from $3,495 to $1,895.

How does the level of technology in a pair of hearing aids impact their price?

Modern digital hearing aids are very complex and even the most basic hearing aids aim to increase the volume of soft sounds without over-amplifying loud sounds, while also reducing background noise. This means it’s necessary for hearing aids to have some complicated computer algorithms that can process all the different listening environments we find ourselves in.

A lot of research goes into hearing aid technology and some of the most important technologies we have in hearing aids today are the ability for the hearing aid to focus on someone talking while also reducing the background noise around the user, detecting multiple noise sources and reducing these, and focusing on moving speech. That’s why most hearing aids do cost over $1,000 – but this is definitely a fair price.

Other technologies that have continually improved over the years are the ability to reduce the whistling that plagued the early hearing aids, music settings to allow for a superior quality of music listening, reducing reverberation and echo effects, reducing wind noise when outdoors and stopping the amplification of really loud, harsh sounds.

Many hearing aids can also directly connect to smartphones and accessories to stream your television or from a portable microphone.

How can I tell which technology is worth paying more for?

It depends on what situations are the most important for you to hear well in – your audiology professional can help guide you to the most appropriate solution if you give them the right information. For example, if you like to meet friends at cafes and restaurants, then it’s important to have a hearing aid that can focus on speech while reducing significant levels of background noise.

If you play golf or enjoy bushwalking, then it’s important to have technology in your hearing aid that’ll reduce the wind noise. If you go to lectures or church, then you may want an extra microphone accessory that you can place at the front of the room to stream the speaker’s voice directly into your hearing aids. And if you use your mobile phone regularly, a hearing aid that can stream sound directly from your phone may be the best option.

Other technologies you may want are rechargeable hearing aids, the ability to finetune your hearing aids without having to go to the clinic for an appointment or the ability to adjust your hearing aids using an app on your phone.

It’s worth also asking any hearing aid provider you consider buying from what additional costs will crop up. Every pair of hearing aids we sell at Specsavers Audiology come with free aftercare for 12 months, including your maintenance checks and adjustments whenever you need them, free batteries for 12 months, plus a four-year warranty on your hearing aids themselves.

Also ask them about their return policy because you might find after using your hearing aids for a while that there are some features you’d like to have after all. We’ve got a 90-day, money-back satisfaction period on all of our hearing aids just in case you need it.

Can the severity of my hearing loss impact how much I pay for hearing aids?

A common misconception is that the severity of hearing loss is a factor when deciding on the level of technology or size of a hearing aid.

The most important factor is actually to understand what situations are most important for you to be hearing better in. From there, an appropriate recommendation can be made, matching the technology in a hearing aid to the particular situations you’ve identified as needing improvement.

During an assessment at Specsavers Audiology, we’ll discuss your medical case history to understand whether you have fluctuating or rapidly deteriorating hearing loss, as this may indicate that the ability to adjust the hearing aids independently is required.

We also consider if you’ve had significant medical issues with your ears, such as ongoing infections, as this would indicate a hearing aid that allows more airflow into the ear is more suitable.

Or if you have arthritis in your fingers, we may recommend rechargeable hearing aids so you don’t have to fiddle about changing very small batteries.

However, all of these medical considerations won’t impact the cost of the hearing aids.

Will I have to pay more for a specific fitting style or unobtrusive design?

Cost really shouldn’t be a barrier to choosing the style you prefer. I know many people feel concerned about the look of a hearing aid and feel self-conscious about it, and it’s not fair to the customer to make them feel like they have to choose between their dignity or paying lots of money.

At Specsavers Audiology every style is available at every technology level – we don’t charge more for a subtle appearance. You can have even the smallest hearing aid at our standard-level technology.

Discreet hearing aids such as the Specsavers Advance Completely in Canal start from just $1,495.
Discreet hearing aids such as the Specsavers Advance Completely in Canal start from just $1,495.

How can I tell if a pair of hearing aids are ‘right’ for me or if I’ve been sold a lemon?

Whether you are new to hearing aids or are being refitted with your fifth pair, it can take some time to acclimatise to the volume and sound from the new hearing aids. You may find at the fitting appointment that the volume of sound is louder than you’re used to, speech is tinnier or your own voice echoes slightly.

Your audiology professional will talk to you about acclimatising to these sounds and give you some strategies to help with this process. Over the first few weeks you should gradually acclimatise to the volume and sound from the hearing aids. Voices should start seeming clearer and less tinny, plus your own voice should sound like it’s echoing less. You should also start to see improvement in your hearing ability in the settings and situations you’ve identified with your audiology professional.

If you are really uncomfortable with any sound from your hearing aids, it’s important to discuss this with your hearing professional as they’ll determine whether it is part of the normal acclimatisation process or if fine-tuning the settings is needed.

If you don’t feel you are getting the benefit you expected, it’s really important to raise this with your audiology professional to determine if some adjustments need to be made or if there are other communication strategies that may help you to get the most out of your new hearing aids.

Should I trial different hearing aids before deciding which to purchase?

Trialling multiple hearing aids is not usually advisable as it is difficult to accurately determine the differences between them, particularly for new users only wearing them for a short amount of time. Hearing aids should be fitted and fine-tuned accurately to your hearing loss and it’s normal for it to take several weeks to acclimatise to the sound.

Instead, make sure you know the prices of every level of technology – if possible, find out prior to your hearing assessment appointment so you have an idea of the potential costs. Also, find out the return policy and don’t feel you need to make a decision on the day.

A good sign is if your hearing professional takes the time to find out the details of all situations where it’s important for you to be hearing well, including situations that you may currently be avoiding but would really like to be hearing well in. This information helps guide audiology professionals in recommending the most appropriate hearing aid for your needs, so they shouldn’t skim over this.

Can I get more info on whether the Hearing Services Program may make hearing aids more affordable for me?

If you qualify for the HSP, you can be fitted with standard-level hearing aids at no cost. You may choose to pay extra to access top-level technology with the Specsavers Advance Elite level hearing aids, which start from $1,895 per pair for HSP customers (the rechargeable option is an additional $500).

HSP customers get free appointments and repairs to their hearing aids and Specsavers does not charge HSP customers an annual maintenance fee. If you’re an Australian Age Pensioner and you’re having difficulties with your hearing, visit a Specsavers Audiology store or visit www.hearingservices.gov.au to see if you qualify for the HSP. Your audiology professional can help you apply for assistance from the HSP while you’re in store at your appointment.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Hearing not on par?

Did you know Specsavers can look after your ears as well as your eyes? So, if you feel like your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be, visit your local Specsavers audiology professional for a free 15-minute hearing check today. T&Cs apply.

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