Have you noticed that Mom or Dad's hearing isn't what it used to be?
You don't need to sound any alarms, it's totally normal, perhaps even natural! When we make it into our early 40's, our biology affects our eyes' ability to see the fine print clearly!
Several years later in our 60's and 70's our biology affects our ears ability to hear soft, high frequency sounds clearly.
Of course, some of our parents will have more hearing loss than others for a host of other reasons... What were your parents doing during the 1950's & 1960's?
Whether you're surprising your parent with hearing aids or you're helping mom or dad shop for hearing aids online, this article will give you some tips to streamline the process. Hearing aids can be purchased online with the amplification settings Pre-Set or Custom Programmed to match Mom or Dad's audiogram. This article will focus on ordering hearing aids online when you do not have a copy of your parent’s audiogram. A follow up to this article will focus on ordering hearing aids when you do have a copy of your parent’s audiogram.
Hearing aids are available in many different designs that go both behind the ear and in the ear. By far the most popular hearing aid designs sold today are known as Open-Fit hearing aids. These hearing aids come in a few different designs, which include Mini-Behind-The-Ear (Mini-BTE), Receiver-In-Canal (RIC) and Behind-The-Ear Open Ear or Slim-Tube (BTE OE / BTE Slim-Tube). These styles of hearing aids are more versatile than In-The-Canal designs which often cause occlusion effect, and are usually the best choice for an off the shelf solution.
The popularity of these hearing aids is due to their 'Open-Fit' design which, unlike custom hearing aids, does not plug the ear canal, thus providing a much more natural sound quality for people living with high frequency hearing loss.
You can see that the ear canal fitted with a BTE OE on the left is not plugged, while the ear canal fitted with a Completely-In-The-Canal hearing aid on the right is plugged.
It's likely that your parent has high frequency hearing loss, as it's the pattern produced through the natural aging process and damage caused from a lifetime of recreational and workplace noise exposure. In fact, a varied degree of high frequency hearing loss makes up over 80% of all hearing loss in the western world. The popularity of open fit hearing aids also stems from their aesthetic appeal, as they are usually nearly invisible when worn.
Unlike custom hearing aids that need to be custom molded to the user's ear canal, open-fit hearing aids fit behind the ear and transmit the sound into the ear canal via a wire or slim-tube. The wire or slim-tube is available in a variety of sizes as seen below.
Just as I'm sure the length from your mother's elbow to her wrist is different than the length of your father's, the same is true about the length from the top of their ear to the opening of their ear canal. When open-fit hearing aids are purchased through retail hearing clinics the distance from the top of the ear to the opening of the ear canal is measured by a hearing professional and the appropriate length of wire or ear tube is selected. Selecting the correct length of wire or ear tube is important as it will keep the hearing aid from flopping around behind the ear (which happens when the length is too long) or putting tension on the top of the ear (which happens when the length is too short).
I would suggest that you choose a Mini-BTE or Slim-Tube design over the RIC design as my research has shown that online hearing companies only include one length of wire (likely due to the high cost of the wire) with RIC hearing aid purchases. On the other hand, the cost of the slim-tubes is relatively inexpensive and you can find companies that include short, medium and long length slim-tubes with every open-fit hearing aid order.
The other customizable part is the ear bud that is attached to the end of the wire or slim-tube that goes inside of the ear canal. Having different sizes of ear buds allows the user to find a comfortable fit for inside of their ear canal, but also allows them to adjust the volume and pitch of the hearing device.
When an Open-fit hearing aid is used with an open earbud, the ear canal is not plugged up which allows the user to hear the low frequency sounds naturally, while amplifying the middle and high frequency sounds.
Some hearing aid companies will also include an assortment occluded-fit earbuds which allows the user to customize the amplification range of the hearing aid by adjusting how much low frequency amplification they receive. This widens the fitting range of the hearing aids substantially, as seen on the graph below.
Hearing Aids are sensitive electronics that have to perform in a challenging environment. You can expect Mini-BTE and BTE OE/Slim-Tube hearing aids to hold up better than the RIC design. The RIC hearing aid positions some of the sensitive electronics inside of the ear canal where moisture and ear wax reap havoc, whereas the Slim-Tube design places all of the sensitive electronics behind the ear where they aren't as suseptable to the humidity and wax found inside of the ear canal. When the slim tube and ear bud become plugged with wax or moisture they can easily be removed and cleaned or replaced.
Volume adjustment is very important. Some sounds your parent will love to hear louder, while others they will not. Make sure they can control the amount of amplification they receive in order to hear their best and keep themselves comfortable.
Another creature comfort that Mom or Dad is sure to appreciate is Adaptive Directional Microphones. Entry level hearing aids are sold with a single microphone which picks up sound equally from all directions. This often leaves the hearing aid user unable to pick up the speech over the background noise in challenging environments such as busy restaurants and get-togethers. Hearing aids with Adaptive Directional Microphones (two microphones working in concert) constantly and automatically adjust there focus to target the dominant speech in noisy environments. This is perhaps the greatest breakthrough the hearing industry has experienced in allowing hearing aid users to hear in noisy places.
Some online hearing companies only offer their hearing aids with Pre-Programmed amplification settings, others only offer hearing aids programmed to an audiogram submitted by customers, while others offer their hearing aids both Pre-Set and Custom Programmed. If you order hearing aids 'Pre-Set', it's best to purchase them through a company that also offers custom programming. This way, if you can convince your parent to have their hearing tested down the road, you'll be able to return the hearing aids to the company and have them reprogrammed to your parent's audiogram.
The open-fit hearing aid design shown below is a slim-tube design available at www.clearlyhearing.com. It comes in two technology levels, with and without adaptive directional microphones. Regardless of the model you select, every order is shipped with short, medium and long ear tubes and a wide variety of open, closed and power ear buds. They can be purchased 'Pre-Set' or 'Custom Programmed' and come with a 1-year warranty which covers free reprogramming.
I wish you the best of luck welcoming your hard of hearing parent back to the world of hearing. Check back soon, or sign up to our mailing list, to read our next article focusing on ordering hearing aids for your parents when you do have a copy of their audiogram.