April 15, 2013
Advertisements for hearing aids are found in many places, from print ads in the popular press to internet marketing to television ads. Many of the marketing pieces on hearing aids are completely legitimate and truthful. They guide patients ethically towards a particular practice. Always regard hearing aid claims with care.
Several marketing pieces seen lately, however, have been using information that makes a particular brand or style of hearing instrument appear more unique, new or high-tech than it may be in reality. A well-known retailer of hearing aids was taken to task years ago for unrealistic claims of eliminating background noise, for example. Consumers must pay attention to claims being made. While good digital technology typically features directional microphones and “noise management”, it is simply impossible for a hearing aid’s circuits to distinguish signal from noise with 100% accuracy. Environmental noise is still an integral part of hearing.
One retail-model center has made recent claims about an extended frequency range their hearing aids reach (5000 Hz) and patients have been told other hearing aids cannot match this feature. The truth is that many current brands of hearing aids regularly extend to at least 6000 Hz. Most hearing impaired patients would not be able to utilize extreme high-frequency amplification in a meaningful way. This is reminiscent of high-end stereo equipment that extends to 20,000 Hz, even though the average adult listener cannot detect such high frequencies, nor would they know if they were missing. Many hearing-impaired patients have very limited residual hearing at 8000 Hz, and when a sound is loud enough to be detected at that frequency, it may actually be too loud for their comfort. What looks good on paper does not necessarily translate to improved performance for a typical user, although these hearing aid claims often make for good “selling points”.
All modern digital hearing instruments can be custom-programmed to match a patient’s hearing loss. If a hearing aid is said to cover a “full frequency spectrum”, including 6-8000 Hz, this may not match the patient’s full spectrum of available hearing. Features such as dynamic range compression, output limiting, multiple-band gain control, feedback suppression, background noise management, microphone polar plots, remote controls and “speech optimization” may be useful for audiologists and dispensers only if they know how to use them appropriately. Otherwise, they are nothing more than impressive sounding words. And most digital hearing aids have these features regardless of brand.
Given the similarity of technology and features across brands of hearing aids, the most important aspects of the process are appropriate selection of style and level of technology, as well as the experience, knowledge and competence of the professional programming the devices. As we’ve stated before, trust your ears only to a qualified expert (with a local phone number), not a “consultant”.