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When shopping for a hearing aid, bring a spouse, family member or friend, if at all possible, says Juliette Sterkens, a recently retired audiologist in Oshkosh, Wis. "Two people hear and remember more."
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The value you get out of your hearing aid will hinge on the skills and abilities of your provider, so be sure to locate one you trust. Audiologists and hearing instrument specialists are both licensed to sell hearing aids, but audiologists hold a master's or doctoral degree in audiology. Get referrals from health care professionals, or contact the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association or the American Academy of Audiology for information on finding a hearing professional.
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Top providers will question patients about their lifestyle and hearing needs: Are you active or more of a homebody? What do you want the hearing aid to do for you? Do you just want to be able to hear the television? Or do you hope to hear the sermon in church? Knowing your priorities will help the professional determine what style and technology are best for you.
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During your visit, you should be given a hearing test in a soundproof booth. This will tell the audiologist or hearing specialist what type of hearing loss you have, which will help her choose the appropriate hearing aid as well as program it specifically for you.
Ask to “test drive” the hearing aids recommended for you. An audiologist may be 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. A simulated sound field also can show how a hearing aid works in different kinds of settings. And take your time. "This is way too important and costly a decision to make in a hurry," says Sterkens.
Directional microphones can enhance hearing in noisy places and tele-coils can help with phone conversations. Wireless technology makes it easier to use cellphones and televisions. But consider what you really need. "If you generally don't go out a lot or you entertain at home, you may not need as many advanced features, which can save you money," says Tobie Stanger, Consumer Reports senior editor.
Get a signed copy of a contract that outlines what you're buying — the model and make of hearing aid, the price, trial period, any nonrefundable fees as well as the warranty, says Lise Hamlin, director of public policy for the Hearing Loss Association of America. Most manufacturers allow a 30- to 60-day trial period, with follow-up visits."
There’s a lot more to buying a hearing aid than choosing the right one and fitting it to your ear. “You don’t hear with your ear, you hear with your brain, and your brain doesn’t know what to do with the sound after you get your hearing aids,” says audiologist Barry Freeman of Zpower, based in Camarillo, Calif. Ask your provider about aural rehabilitation. Some auditory training can be done at home with a personal computer or through group sessions.
These small technological marvels can cost between $1,600 and $3,000 for a single aid, an outlay not covered by Medicare or most private insurance companies. A 2014 Consumer Reports survey noted that there is an average retail markup of 117 percent, which leaves room to bargain.
Don't leave the office without checking whether your new aid fits — and not just physically. Does it do what you want it to do? Ask to have an automated "real ear" test to see how it works in your ear.
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