Hearing loss is a common problem and is different in everyone. Hearing loss can result in isolation and many attendant social and health issues.
Hearing aids have changed dramatically. A basic hearing aid today is better that the most advanced one available 10 years ago. Hearing aids are no longer analog sound amplifiers. They are little computers with highly processed digital signals that can suppress some sounds and enhance others. They filter out background noise and enhance human voices.
Some insurances cover digital hearing aids. MassHealth Standard will pay for a hearing test, hearing aids, follow-ups and batteries. Coverage varies greatly–even between plans from the same company. Start by asking your local hearing professional what coverage you may have for their service.
Digital hearing aids can be programmed to suit the situation. There are directional microphones in the device (facing forward and backward). For example, with a restaurant setting, the back facing microphone is turned down and the forward facing one is turned up. This is called integrated noise reduction, which allows you to block out some of the sounds you don’t want to hear and focus on those you do. Hearing professionals also offer listening training that improves the benefit of the hearing aid.
Some of the more technologically-advanced capabilities of modern-day hearing aids include: fall alerts, which use a gyroscope and accelerometer to detect a fall and send a text to alert others, as well as an integrated global positioning system (GPS) to help a wearer find a lost hearing aid. Options in the future may include an ability to measure blood sugar (glucose) and oxygen levels through the ear canal and an option to track the wearer’s eye movements and direct the microphones toward that sound.
Hearing aids are now available over-the-counter. However, specialists caution that testing and follow-ups are important to ensure you have the right fit for you.
Maintenance of a hearing aid is also important. Ear wax is a “tremendous issue” according to David Bergeron of Beauport Hearing Care in Gloucester. Cleaning and keeping the hearing aids dry helps. There are desiccating kits available. Or, as Mass.gov recommends, you can dry out the hearing aid inexpensively by removing the battery and sealing the hearing aid in a zip-lock bag with uncooked rice. The rice absorbs moisture.
The small size of the hearing aid and its tiny batteries can present difficulty to people with arthritic hands or limited vision. Some hearing aids are rechargeable and do not require batteries. You can also get a larger, hand-held remote device so that adjusting the hearing aid volume or program is easier.
For more information, contact your local hearing aid professional or the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (617-740-1600).