Well, now to a subject with much controversy: technology. Every hearing aid company wants you to think their products are the best. That’s a given. The truth is that many products perform in a similar manner (with one notable exception I’ll discuss later).
What’s more important than the technology you choose is the audiologist you choose. You want someone who will know and use the best current understanding of what makes hearing aids work for people. You want someone who will examine your lifestyle to determine the level of technology and accessories that will help you communicate well. A proper fitting of the aid to your particular hearing loss is critical.
Ten years ago I really didn’t see a lot of difference in results between people who purchased high-end and mid-range technology. Digital hearing aids were only five or six years old and manufacturers didn’t yet know how to make the best use of that technology. But in the past couple of years I’ve seen significant differences. I’ve had two people recently who took the opportunity to compare different levels of technology and both of them preferred (and purchased) the high-end.
What was it that made the difference? Directional microphones have been touted for a number of years; they’re supposed to help in noisy places. They do provide benefit but they’re nothing to write home about. Why? Your brain was not designed to make use of directional mics.
Let’s look at what happens in your brain when you go into a noisy place. The first thing your brain wants to know is where all the sounds are coming from. It wants to analyze your acoustic environment. That analysis is combined with visual input to give you a sense of place, a sense of where you are and who you’re with. When you have hearing loss, you loose some important auditory cues that give you a sense of your environment. All the sounds seem as if they’re jumbled together. The cues that help you sort out the jumble are the difference between ears in arrival time of a sound and the difference across ears in terms of the intensity of that sound.
Time of arrival differences are perceived in the low frequencies. Open-fit hearing aids allow normal propagation of this cue. I believe the two reasons for the recent popularity of open-fit hearing aids is the restoration of precise time of arrival differences and the feeling of a more open ear.
The intensity difference cue is perceived primarily in the high frequencies. Only one company I’m aware of has, in the last few years, been able to restore the intensity difference between ears. They’ve designed a hearing system in which two hearing aids function as a team, sending information about the auditory environment between aids at very high rates of speed. Given the very enthusiastic response of clients to this technology, I believe the loudness difference cue is more important than audiologists have previously thought.
The bottom line for hearing aid technology is this: get the best you can afford and have it fit by the best audiologist you can find. Please contact me if you want to know more about the hearing aids my clients are most excited about.
(Disclaimer: I use several hearing aid brands and am not a paid representative of any hearing aid manufacturer.)