1. Don't go it alone
Bring along a friend or relative. "One of the most important steps you can take is to bring a spouse, family member or friend to the examination," says Juliette Sterkens, a recently retired audiologist in Oshkosh, Wis. "Two people hear and remember more."
2. Interview a provider
"The number one thing to remember is that the value you get out of your hearing aid is based on the skills and abilities of the hearing health professional," says Sergei Kochkin, an independent consultant to the hearing healthcare industry. 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. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the American Academy of Audiology offer information on how to find a hearing professional
3. Know before you go
"Most people have had trouble with their hearing for years," says Barry Freeman, an audiologist and now vice-president of business development for ZPower, a developer of rechargeable silver-zinc batteries. Yet they wait an average of seven to ten years before they get their hearing tested. The worse the hearing loss, the harder it is for your brain to adjust, so it's important to act as soon as you think you may have hearing loss. Freeman suggests that audiologists question their patients: "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.
4. Have your hearing tested
During your visit, you should be given a hearing test in a soundproof booth. It will tell the audiologist or hearing specialist what type of hearing loss you have so a hearing aid can be programmed specifically for you. Not all devices will fit every person or every degree of hearing loss. And "these are custom-made devices," says Linda Remensnyder, the founder of an audiology practice near Chicago. "It's not prudent to buy online or from a big-box retail store."
5. Try before you buy
Ask for a demonstration of 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 particular situations, so check the hearing aid in noisy settings. And take your time. "This is way too important and costly a decision to make in a hurry," says Sterkens.
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