While 480,000 people in New Zealand have hearing loss, only 200,000 wear hearing aids, meaning that nearly 300,000 New Zealanders are living with the daily challenges of hearing loss. While the cost of hearing aids can sometimes put people off buying hearing aids, so can the misconception that wearing hearing aids can make a person appear older.

But why do so many people not wear hearing aids? For many people, it’s because their hearing aids are not fitted correctly or they don’t have the features they need. If you take the time to compare hearing aids before making a purchase, you can ensure that your new hearing aids will not only fit comfortably, be suitable for your specific hearing needs but also have the features you want.

Which hearing aid?

Just as each person is different, no two types of hearing loss are the same. This means there is no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing hearing aids. However, with so many brands and styles of hearing aids, selecting just one specific hearing aid can feel daunting. Which hearing aid will be right for you depends on the nature and severity of your hearing loss and your lifestyle and profession. If you regularly interact with people or need to regularly make phone calls, you may need a certain kind of hearing aid. Meanwhile, if you have an active social life, spend a lot of time in the car or are mainly at home, you will likely need a different hearing aid.

Types of hearing aids

To help you find the best hearing aid for you, start by comparing the four main types of hearing aids and select the type that best suits your hearing loss and matches your cosmetic preferences. The four main types of hearing aid are:

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids
  • Receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids
  • In the ear (ITE) hearing aids
  • In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids are the largest type of hearing aid and resemble the hearing aid that most people know. The case which houses the receiver, microphone and processor is worn behind your ear. A tube connects to an ear mould that fits inside your ear canal. BTE hearing aids are suitable for all levels of hearing aids and due to their size, can offer many features that you won’t find with smaller hearing aids such as rechargeable batteries and directional microphones.

Receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids

Nearly 90% of hearing aids are RIC hearing aids which are a smaller version of the BTE hearing aids. They use a wire to connect the body of the hearing aid with a soft tip that sits inside your ear canal. But unlike traditional BTE hearing aids, a RIC hearing aid’s receiver, which acts as the hearing aid’s loudspeaker, is at the end of the wire, near the eardrum. This enables the hearing aid to produce a high-quality sound with reduced transmission loss.

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are smaller than BTE hearing aids and are moulded to the shape of your ears to fit inside your ear canal. They are very discreet and can hardly be seen when worn.

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids are custom made to fit inside your ear canal with just the control buttons and outer casing visible. These hearing aids are extremely discreet, however, their small size does limit the functions they can offer.

Invisible-in-the-canal hearing aids are the smallest hearing aids on the market. They fit entirely in your ear and are almost completely invisible.

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Hearing aid features

The most crucial part of choosing the best hearing aid for you is being able to determine how well the hearing aid improves your hearing loss. Your next consideration should then be comfort. After all, if your hearing aid isn’t comfortable and doesn’t fit you correctly, then you are unlikely to want to wear them. Once you are satisfied with the comfort and performance of a hearing aid, you should next focus on the additional features the hearing aid offers. These could include:

  • Digital noise reduction
  • Bluetooth or wireless compatibility
  • Directional microphones
  • Multiple listening programmes
  • Wide dynamic range compression

With hearing aid technology constantly improving, hearing aids now offer a variety of extra features. Make sure, however, that you choose a hearing aid with features that you will use.

How to compare hearing aids

Researching all the different hearing aid styles and features will provide you with a lot of useful information. However, the only way to truly compare hearing aids is to spend some time using them. Most hearing care professionals will have demonstration hearing aids which you can try. But some may even let you take a demonstration model to try out at home for a short time.

The first time you try them on

The first time you try a hearing aid, you may notice that sounds seem louder than you were expecting. It’s important to remember that hearing aids won’t be able to restore your hearing to what it once was. Instead, hearing aids are designed to amplify sounds to enable you to hear them better. While you may find this strange at first, once you begin using your hearing aids for a while, you will soon adapt to the new heightened sounds.

Listen to your loved ones’ voices

A useful way to compare hearing aids is to listen to the familiar voices of friends or family members. Their voices may sound louder and rather different than what you are used to. This is because the hearing aid microphone will be picking up their voice and transmitting it through the hearing aid’s speakers. Ask them to repeat a specific tune or phrase several times to allow you to pick up on the level of consistency. This will enable you to compare the way each different hearing aid alters sounds.

Use the controls

While hearing aids once had separate settings and volume controls, most of today’s hearing aids have just one button. Most also have automatic volume adjustment, so you don’t even have to increase or decrease the volume, it’s done for you. But while you may not have so many controls to play around with now, it’s helpful to test out the controls to see how they work.

The hearing aid may come with features and custom settings that can be controlled by an app on your phone. Explore these apps to see how useful and intuitive they are. You may also want to step outside while wearing them to determine how outside noise such as wind affects the performance of the hearing aid.

Check the battery compartment

Unless you decide on buying a rechargeable hearing aid, you will likely have to change the batteries in the hearing aid every 5 to 7 days. It’s a good idea to ask how long the batteries will last before they need replacing, what type of batteries are required and how much they cost. You should also try opening the battery compartment door and practice taking out the batteries and putting them back. It’s worth remembering that the smaller the hearing aid, the more difficult it can be to replace the batteries. If you have any vision or dexterity problems, you may prefer a larger style of hearing aid or one with built-in rechargeable batteries.

Test out the hearing aid with your phone

Using a hearing aid could change the way you use your phone. You may have to hold the phone at a different angle, especially if you are wearing an in-the-ear behind-the-ear hearing aid. Test it out by making a phone call to see how well the hearing aid can pick up sounds from the phone and whether you hear any feedback. Most hearing aids are now designed to connect to phones wirelessly using Bluetooth technology.

Ask about accessories

Hearing aid accessories play a key role in keeping your hearing aids in the best possible condition. While they may not determine which hearing aid you eventually decide on, it’s a good idea to know what’s available. Accessories such as those designed to help dry out your hearing aids overnight, protect the microphones from earwax and to clean the hearing aids should come as standard with any hearing aids you buy.

Try before you buy

If your hearing care professional offers trial periods where you can take the hearing aids home to test drive for a few days, take advantage of the offer. One of the best ways to compare hearing aids is to try them at home. It can take a little time to adjust to hearing with a hearing aid, so using them at home for a while will help you decide if you have selected the right hearing aid model and style for you. It will also help you to determine whether you’ll require any extra features. Before you start a trial period, ask your hearing care professional to put the cost of the trial in writing. You should also check whether a portion of the trial cost will be refunded if you return the hearing aid before the end of the trial period.

It’s always a good idea to compare hearing aids before making a firm decision on which ones you will purchase. This will enable you to thoroughly explore the different models and types and the advantages they offer.

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