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Your first hearing aid: Common questions about hearing loss and what I’ve learned

questions about hearing loss

I’ve found that hearing loss is a good conversation starter, especially among a large group of 67 year old men and women. Such was the case recently when I attended my college reunion and learned, of course, that I wasn’t the only one living with hearing loss. 

In fact, according to a reunion class poll that was taken prior to the event, 15% of my classmates admitted to some hearing health issues. Depending on which numbers you use, that’s pretty close to the U.S. national average.  And, as it often happens, my hearing issues came up in conversations as  classmates had read about my story on the class website – and will again in next month’s issue of our alumni magazine.

As I caught up with my old friends and classmates I had not seen in 20 years, several of them shared their own stories of hearing loss.

A year prior, I had been approached by a classmate whose father in law was over 80, very hard of hearing and resisting getting a hearing aid even though he was alone, very isolated and increasingly cranky. I understood the problem and agreed to send him some suggestions. So, when another classmate and I spoke at the reunion, I offered to send him those same suggestions. He and his wife both hoped they might lend him the support and encouragement he needed to get his hearing loss addressed.

I know from experience that it’s very easy to become overwhelmed with information and suggestions for anyone with a hearing loss, so I have developed a kind of primer that I use – and you’re free to use – with a resistant family member or friend. It provides some important facts, suggests questions to be asked, and most of all, offers a soft approach to a serious problem.

You can do this several ways including creating a paper or online questionnaire for the friend or family member to review by themselves without any over the shoulder nudging from you.

  1. Have you ever had a hearing test?
  2. Have you ever been to an audiologist?
  3. If yes, what audiologist’s  office did you visit ?
  4. How would you rate that experience?
  5. What kind of hearing aid (if any) have you tried before? (The answer is usually “none” but the question suggests that one can “try” hearing aids.)

Then, inform them of some key facts, that let them know that they’re not alone. 

  • 1/3 of people over 65 worldwide suffer from disabling hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss can cause social isolation, depression, fear, giving up, and recent research suggests it may also cause some cognitive disorders like Dementia. 
  • Every hearing loss is different.
  • Every hearing aid is different too.
  • There is no one size fits all hearing aid and no hearing aid is perfect. 
  • Many new hearing aids have a number of settings (for speech, music, noise reduction, the phone, and more) that can be adjusted to improve your hearing experience.
  • You and those you love will have a better quality of life if you wear a hearing aid and are able to hear more.

I’ve also found that many people have the same questions when considering getting a hearing aid for the first time. Here are some common ones: 

What does an audiologist do?

Audiologists are hearing specialists – technicians – engineers – and many have Doctor of Audiology degrees. They can answer technical questions, but not necessarily medical ones. If you have a medical question consult with an Otolaryngologist (ENT – Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor) or an Otologist.

“An audiologist will conduct tests to determine whether you can or cannot hear within the normal range, and if not, which portions of your hearing (high, middle, or low frequencies) are affected and to what degree. If an audiologist determines that a hearing loss is present he or she will provide recommendations to you as to what options (e.g. hearing aid, cochlear implant, other medical referrals) may be of assistance.” Source: Wikipedia

Some audiologists also provide rehabilitative services to help you improve your speech and communication skills.  

Read more: Meet your hearing health care team

How can I find an audiologist?

Get referrals – talk to friends, family members and younger people who wear hearing aids. Contact your local Commission on Deafness and the Hard of Hearing and/or the local Hearing Loss Association or the National Hearing Loss Association of America in Washington, D.C. I find it’s best to start with a good referral from someone who has had a positive experience with an audiologist and their hearing aids.

Phonak also has a great tool, where you can find a local hearing care specialist by entering your zip code.  

Can’t I just call the hearing aid company?

Hearing aid services are provided by an audiologist, also called a Hearing Care Professional, who works directly with hearing aid companies to determine and fit the best aid for you.  

Some hearing aid companies provide support online or on their social media channels, but it’s best to connect with your audiologist, who best knows your hearing technology and personal needs. 

What will happen at the audiologists’ office?

First you will have an audiogram done as well as a speech comprehension test. Your audiologist will explain what the test shows about your hearing loss.

Read more: What an audiogram says about your hearing loss.

What should I ask my audiologist?

  • Will my hearing improve with a hearing aid? How so?
  • What are the limitations to hearing aids that I might experience?
  • Will I hear better right away?
  • What’s the best type of aid for me? Why?
  • Will I be able to listen to people, the TV, music better?
  • Will I need special programming in my hearing aid?
  • What company’s product do you recommend? Why?
  • Will you (the audiologist) adjust the settings just once?
  • Will I have to come in for additional adjustments?
  • If yes, do adjustments have a benefit?

How much does a hearing aid cost? 

First, find out if your insurance company will pay for all or part of your hearing aid(s). Find out if there are any health company or community grants (veterans, etc.) or other programs available to you to help defray the cost.

Cost depends on your needs but aids will coast from $750 -$3,000 or more, per hearing aid- with a great variation up and down. 

Note: Most companies also have a “B” line of products – less expensive but with little fall off in quality. Ask your audiologist about the “B” line of products available.

Read more: Hearing Aid Costs – Ways to save money in the purchasing process

How do I buy a hearing aid?

Currently, the standard recommendation is to purchase your hearing aid from the audiologist you choose to work with. That’s how the business works. Until such time as the laws and regulations change, you can’t go to a hearing aid “store” to get a cheaper aid. You can go on line and find a hearing aid for less, but what kind of hearing aid do you choose, and does the costs provide any servicing? Who will do the test and the fitting and adjustments? Changes may be coming, but right now the key is to have all that knowledge and service behind your purchase. You cannot get that online. 

The most important advantage of working with an audiologist, is that you will work with someone who knows you, your hearing situation and the aid. Normally, your adjustments won’t cost anything. The price of your hearing aid through an HCP usually includes the servicing – if not all, most.

In the U.S., you can go to big box stores like Costco to purchase a hearing aid, but there may be a difference in the quality of services and products available there vs. working with an audiologist (HCP).

Do I need anything else to make my hearing aid work?

Today, there are many accessories that you might find especially useful. Once you’re comfortable in your hearing aid, ask your audiologist about the various accessories available with your hearing aid. They will also tell you about a number of items you may want for your home, such as safety features, lights, alarm clocks, special phones and other products that make life with a hearing loss easier and less stressful.

Where can I find more information on hearing loss?

There are many things to read but several blogs – including this one –  post almost weekly and are of great assistance and comfort and are full of useful information and encouragement. Sign up for these blogs and others.

Hear Better with Hearing Loss, by Katherine Bouton

Hearing Health & Technology Matters,  by Gael Hannan

Living with Hearing Loss, by Shari Eberts 

By the way, my classmate’s father-in-law has been using his hearing aid for some time now and is doing very well (and making it easier on the family too!). And, my recent encounter with the friend at the reunion has encouraged him to make his first audiology appointment. He wrote to tell me that he and his wife are very pleased to be addressing his hearing issues.  

So, it works! Be comforting and keep prodding. Use the “soft sell.” And  share this primer with those you love – and others.

Author Details
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, musician, composer, actor and activist. In 2013 he began a years-long journey to return to making music after a bilateral hearing loss ended a successful career forty-five years ago. Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, auditory training and vocal work, he resumed performing in 2017 and made his first new recording in 2018. Recently, Stu also completed a screenplay about his musical journey. A graduate of Princeton University, Stu has studied piano, voice, acting, improvisation and public speaking. He is a member of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, and for his activism, is a Phonak “hEARo” and a “HearStrong Champion.”