With so many choices and options available today, shopping for a hearing aid that meets your needs and budget can be challenging. Here are some tips that can help you locate a good hearing aid provider
and choose an aid appropriate for you.
1. Choose a Provider
The best option -- as recommended by Consumer Reports -- is an an ear, nose and throat doctor who employs an audiologist to fit and dispense hearing aids.
The doctor will first examine your ears and rule out any serious medical conditions that can affect your hearing. Medicare will cover the medical exam and an audiologist's test if ordered by a physician.
If you can't find a conveniently located doctor's office that dispenses aids, an independent audiologist or hearing instrument specialist is a good alternative. To search for these professionals in your area, see howsyourhearing.org and ihsinfo.org. Retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco also sell hearing aids.
If you're a veteran, be sure to check with your nearest VA health facility. Eligible veterans may be able to get hearing aids for free.
2. During Your Visit
When you go for your first visit be prepared to discuss your lifestyle and hearing needs. For example: Do you just want to hear the TV, or other people speaking? Do you talk on the phone a lot? Do you need to hear in noisy places, like buses, trains, or restaurants? Knowing your priorities will help your provider determine what style and hearing aid technology is best for you.
You'll also be given a hearing test in a soundproof booth to determine what type of hearing loss you have. After the test, your provider should give you a choice of hearing aid brands, features and styles to consider.
To help you decide, ask for a demonstration. Many providers are able to put a disposable plug on the tip of a behind-the-ear hearing aid and program the device to your hearing loss so you can experience how it works.
Also ask about popular add-on features like "telecoils" that help with phone conversations, "directional microphones" that can help you hear in noisy places and "feedback cancellation" that prevents the aid from squealing when you get close to other audio equipment. But, keep in mind that extra features will increase the price.
3. At the Fitting
After you buy your hearing aid, don't leave the office without making sure it physically fits your ear and that it does what you want it to do. To help with this, ask to have a
"real-ear" test which measures the match between your hearing loss and the response of your hearing aid.
Also, get a signed copy of a contract that outlines the hearing aid you're buying, along with the price, trial period, any nonrefundable fees and the warranty. Most manufacturers allow a 30- to 60-day trial period to be sure you're satisfied, and provide follow-up visits to help you with needed adjustments or questions.
Digital hearing aids are expensive, typically costing between $1,000 and $3,500 per ear, and they're not covered by traditional Medicare or most private insurance companies.
PATF can provide a zero-interest mini-loan (under $1,500) or a 3.75% loan (over $1,500). Some mini-loan applicants can also qualify for a partial grant.
You can also call the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at 800-241-1044. They can mail you a list of financial resources for hearing aids.
This article has been adapted from SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.