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Expert Advice on Hearing Aids

Save money, find the right fit, shop smart

Consumer Reports senior editor Tobie Stanger and her colleagues worked for more than a year on a project involving lab tests of hearing aids and a national survey of 1,100 people with hearing loss. In the project, Consumer Reports shoppers, all hearing-impaired, bought 48 aids and had their fitting checked by audiologists. Two-thirds were incorrectly fitted — underscoring the fact that you need to be a savvy consumer. Here's Stanger's advice on how to be a smart buyer.

See also: Types of hearing aids.

Q. Which is better, going to an audiologist or a hearing aid specialist?

A. Generally, we concluded you might want to start — aside from the Veterans Administration if you are eligible — with an ear, nose and throat doctor who employs an audiologist. That was a good combination according to our survey.

Q. What's the secret to living successfully with a hearing aid?

A. Give yourself time to adjust. All states mandate a time period — usually 30 to 45 days — so you can try the device, because you're going to need at least that much time to get used to it. Try it out, get used to cleaning it and putting it on in the morning, get used to sounds in different environments. It's different from putting on a pair of glasses, where you see better right away. It takes a while for your brain to adjust, and people's brains adjust in different ways.

Q. How important is follow-up?

A. One of the reasons the aids are so expensive is that the cost generally includes the service of fitting and following up more than once with the hearing aid provider. You should take advantage of that. I wouldn't recommend using a provider that doesn't include follow-up with the purchase of your aid.

Q. Are the most expensive brands necessarily better?

A. The best for you might not be a highly sophisticated model with all the bells and whistles. Why waste your money? You have to be careful. They are going to try to sell you features that may not be necessary.

Q. What features might be worth the money?

A. We did find a few features everyone should get: a telecoil — to help you listen on the telephone — a directional microphone, and feedback suppression to prevent that annoying squealing noise.

Elizabeth Agnvall is a contributing editor at the AARP Bulletin.