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Choosing a Hearing Aid

by Robert S. Dinsmoor

A study of hearing-impaired older adults conducted by the National Council on Aging showed that those who used hearing aids felt better about themselves, were more independent, had better mental health, and had better relationships with their families than those who didn’t use hearing aids. According to the Better Hearing Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public and medical professionals about hearing loss, the results of this study showed that treatment for hearing loss (such as hearing aids) improves earning power, communication, intimacy, warmth, emotional stability, and physical health. Treating hearing loss was also shown to reduce frustration and depression, paranoia, and anxiety.

Hearing aid choices
The basic components shared by all electronic hearing aids are a microphone, which picks up sounds and converts them to electrical or digital signals; an amplifier, which makes the sounds louder; a receiver to convert the electrical or digital signals into sound waves and transmit sound into the ear; and a battery to power the device. However, there are now several different styles and types available.

Hearing aids now come in four basic styles. In behind-the-ear devices, the microphone rests atop a hard plastic case that contains the electronic components of the hearing aid. This case, which is worn behind the ear, is attached to a piece of tubing that joins to a plastic ear mold. The mold plugs into the ear canal, where it transmits sound that has entered the microphone and been made louder by the amplifier.

A new type of behind-the-ear hearing aid is the open-fit hearing aid, which fits completely behind the ear, with only a narrow plastic tube inserted into the ear canal. This allows the ear to remain open so that the wearer’s own voice does not sound plugged up. Since only a narrow tube goes into the ear canal, these types of devices are less likely to be damaged by earwax.

Behind-the-ear hearing aids are the largest and most visible hearing aids, but nonetheless, they often escape notice by the casual observer.

In-the-ear hearing aids are custom-made to fit completely inside the outer ear. All of the electronic components are contained in a case of hard plastic. In-the-ear hearing aids are generally visible when the user is face-to-face with another person. Some in-the-ear hearing aids have an additional feature called a telecoil, which is a small magnetic coil that makes it easier to hear phone conversations while eliminating feedback from the hearing aid.

Canal hearing aids, which are custom-molded to fit into the ear canal, come in two styles. In-the-canal hearing aids fill only the bottom half of the external ear, while completely-in-canal hearing aids, the smallest and least visible style of hearing aid, are nearly hidden in the ear canal. Canal hearing aids are not recommended for young children or people with severe hearing loss.

(Click here to see the different styles of hearing aid.)

Each type of hearing aid has its own strengths and weaknesses, and not all types are suitable for everyone. Which type is best for the individual depends on the severity of hearing loss, the person’s lifestyle, where the person will typically be wearing his hearing aid, and how concerned he is about the appearance and visibility of his hearing aid.

Hearing aids also differ in terms of the electronics they employ. The principal types of electronics are analog and digital. Basic analog hearing aids amplify all sounds equally. This means, for example, that the user might need to turn down the volume on the hearing aid in particularly loud environments. Basic analog hearing aids are generally the least expensive, and not all hearing aid manufacturers make them. With programmable analog hearing aids, the audiologist can program the hearing aid to amplify sounds relative to how loud they are to begin with. Some programmable analog hearing aids have various settings that can be selected based on the hearing environment (such as a movie theater or a quiet room at home).

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Also in this article:
Hearing Aid Styles



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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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