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About 15% of Americans aged 18 and over have some trouble hearing, and seniors are more likely to experience symptoms of hearing loss than young people. Hearing aids can help older adults overcome the challenges that hearing loss presents. They can improve seniors' quality of life and boost their self-esteem by making it easier to complete daily activities, enjoy entertainment, and interact with family and friends.
New changes in U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules now make it possible to get assistive devices for hearing more quickly and easily than ever before. To help you navigate this new way to buy hearing aids, we put together a guide of frequently asked questions regarding the devices.
The first step to getting a hearing aid is recognizing that you need one. Some signs of hearing problems include:
If you're experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, it may be time to consider a hearing aid.
Seniors who suspect they have hearing loss should schedule an appointment for a hearing test. Some family practice and general practitioner physicians perform hearing tests in the office. Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans typically cover hearing tests, but you'll generally be required to pay for a portion of the cost. You can also get free testing services at senior centers, health fairs, and other special events in your community.
A hearing test helps you determine if you have hearing loss and how severe it is. This information can help you decide which type of hearing aid is right for you. There are two main categories: prescription hearing aids and over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.
A prescription hearing aid is a device you get through an audiologist, a licensed medical professional specializing in managing hearing and balance disorders. Prescription hearing aids are made to order from molds that fit your ears, and they require an audiologist to make most adjustments.
Prescription hearing aids are usually the best option for individuals with severe hearing loss. An audiologist can also discuss other methods of addressing severe hearing loss, such as a cochlear implant, that may be available for you.
Over-the-counter hearing aids don’t require a doctor's prescription. Depending on the design, OTC devices may have special features that allow you to customize the fit and adjust the performance without an audiologist.
OTC hearing aids are a new option for people dealing with hearing loss. In August 2022, the FDA finalized a new rule that allows the sale of hearing aids over the counter. The new rules take effect in fall 2022, marking the first time seniors can purchase hearing aids without a prescription.
Generally, over-the-counter digital hearing aids are best for people who have mild to moderate hearing loss. Although OTC hearing aids must meet FDA standards for effectiveness, they’re generally not capable of amplifying sound waves enough to suit the needs of those with severe hearing loss.
It usually takes a few weeks to get prescription hearing aids from an audiologist after you’ve completed a hearing test. The process of acquiring prescription hearing devices generally involves the following steps:
The first step is taking a hearing test to assess your specific hearing loss symptoms and the severity of the loss. Once the need for hearing aids is established, your doctor writes a statement clearing you for a device. In some cases, you can skip the medical clearance step and simply sign a waiver. Your audiologist will help you determine if a doctor's letter is necessary.
Once you have your hearing test results, you'll need to schedule a hearing aid evaluation with an audiologist. During the appointment, you'll see different styles of hearing aids available from various manufacturers and learn about their benefits and drawbacks of each. The audiologist will help you decide which is the best for your hearing needs and find a purchase price that fits your budget.
After your initial appointment, you'll usually have a waiting time of one to three weeks. The hearing aid manufacturer will make your hearing aids using custom ear molds during this period. Once the hearing aids are ready, the audiologist will contact you to schedule a hearing aid fitting.
On the day of your appointment, the audiologist adjusts the hearing aids and programs them to your liking. They’ll also explain how to put your hearing aids in, take them out, adjust the volume, and clean the parts. If the device has rechargeable batteries, the audiologist shows you how to charge them. You’ll leave your fitting appointment with your hearing aids.
All states require audiologists to give you a right-to-return period on new hearing aids. Often, this trial period lasts for 30 days. If you decide the hearing aids are uncomfortable after you wear them for a length of time or find that they fail to work for you, you can return them.
Before the right-to-return period ends, audiologists must see you in their offices again for a hearing aid dispensing appointment. During this appointment, the audiologist seeks feedback regarding your experience using the hearing aids, and they’ll address any concerns you have about the devices. After this appointment, you can no longer return your hearing aids.
With prescription hearing aids, you’ll need to return to your audiologist's office periodically for follow-up appointments called hearing aid checks. At each follow-up visit, the hearing specialist will check the condition of your hearing aid and fine-tune the fit. They may also provide tips about hearing care or explain different technical aspects of hearing aids if you have questions.
With the new FDA rules, you can now buy a hearing aid without going through the process required for prescription devices. It’s still a good idea to get an initial evaluation and hearing test to ensure that your level of hearing loss is a good match for an OTC option. However, patients don't need to see their doctors or show the results of a hearing test to buy OTC hearing aids.
Typically, you can get OTC hearing aids faster than prescription alternatives. The reason is that OTC hearing aids don't require professional fitting — they’re open-fit hearing aids that you fit yourself at home. As long as the aids are in stock, companies can immediately provide you with the hearing aid of your choice.
You can purchase OTC hearing aids in some brick-and-mortar stores or online from Because Market and other websites. Buying online means you can shop for a new hearing aid anytime from the comfort of your home, making it much easier for older people with mobility problems to purchase the devices they need to improve their hearing.
Whether or not you need to be fitted for hearing aids depends on the type that you choose. Prescription hearing aids require professional fitting to ensure an exact fit for your ear canal. OTC hearing aids don't require fitting. You’ll receive instructions on how to customize the fit for your needs.
If you purchased prescription hearing aids, your audiologist would tell you when to replace them. For OTC products, you can follow the guidelines provided by the manufacturer. How long a hearing aid lasts varies, and most devices have a life span of three to seven years. Keep an eye out for these signs that you may need a replacement:
You can help your hearing aids last longer by caring for and storing them as recommended by your audiologist or the manufacturer.
Whether you need one hearing aid or two depends on your hearing loss. If you have hearing loss in both ears, wearing two hearing aids will typically give you the best results. Hearing aid wearers may only need one device if their hearing is only impacted on one side.
Both prescription and OTC hearing aids can take some time to get used to. It can take time for the brain to adjust to suddenly hearing clearly in public places, and you may hear more background noise than you did before. You may also need to adjust the fit slightly for comfort. Some people experience itching with new hearing aids, but this usually goes away within the first week.
How long it takes for you to adjust depends on a variety of factors. For some, it’s only a couple of weeks, while other hearing aid users may need three or four months to adjust to their new devices completely. Try to have patience and seek advice from the audiologist or the customer service department of your hearing aid manufacturer if you have any concerns.
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