Well, eh…no, according to my wife.
A joke goes like this:
My wife says to me, “You either have hearing loss or Alzheimer’s; you’re deaf and you don’t pay attention to me!”
I went to see my doctor the following week for a checkup.
The doctor says to me, “if I had a dollar for every guy over 60 who walks in here and tells me his wife thinks he has Alzheimer’s or dementia I would be a millionaire!
If you tell me that you don’t know what to do with your car keys, I’ll send you to a clinic; short of that I will send you to an audiologist for a hearing test.”
I then go for a hearing test.
The audiologist says: “Mr. French, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that considering your age and occupation, your hearing loss isn’t all that bad and can be greatly improved by hearing aids.
Regarding your wife’s specific concerns, however — you probably are actually not paying any attention to her!”
Let the games begin…
About a year ago I went on a hearing aid journey.
My audiologist is a friend who has seemingly unlimited patience (meaning tolerance for my experimentation). Given the very high cost of hearing aids, I wanted to know that the ones I decided to buy were the best for me.
This sounds like a reasonable and logical approach, right?
Well, most of my friends who wear hearing aids just bought what they were told to buy. None of them went through my trial and error.
That is a huge mistake.
There are many brands on the market.
I spent a year testing five brands: Widex, Starkey, Phonak, Oticon, and ReSound.
Each model has its own idiosyncrasies. Some sounded more natural than others, Some felt uncomfortable and not just because the little plastic ear cups were too big. Some had connectivity issues with their apps.
I learned that the really smaller (totally in-ear) hearing aids do not have the technology that the over-the-ear devices have yet, so in my opinion you really need to stay with the over-the-ears versions. [There are a number of types of hearing aids including behind the ear, in the ear, invisible-in-canal, and others. – Ed.]
Also, although many of them look the same, the current designs for all the brands are such that no one notices the hearing aids, if that is one of your concerns. All are controlled by phone apps that, while this looks great on paper, sucks if you don’t have your phone with you or your phone batteries die. If that happens your HA’s will continue to work but the functions are frozen in the last program setting.
All these companies (including the ones that advertise on TV) make you believe that their apps give you amazing control and options to tailor your hearing aids for specific needs. These include dealing with wind noise, hearing conversations in noisy restaurants, and enjoying music streaming, as well as having your hearing aids work in venues with assisted hearing programs.
Because needs and situations vary during the day, you will find yourself frequently adjusting the app, which means more time on your phone. In locations such as restaurants, it looks like you are being rude when all you are doing is trying to hear a conversation. Annoying!
Another problem is that, when you are at a theatrical event where they tell you to turn off your phone, you really can’t. Not only that, you may have to change settings, which again, looks rude to people near you, and may also lead to having an usher come over, which leads to a conversation, which is also annoying to those around you as you explain to the usher that you are adjusting your hearing device.
We haven’t even gotten to the audio quality yet.
For those about to enter this world, I may be stating the obvious, but here goes:
Hearing aids do not do what eyeglasses do.
Eyeglasses can, in most cases, correct vision issues, which is why they have what are called corrective lenses.
Eyeglasses really improve most vision abnormalities.
Hearing aids are not corrective devices in that sense.
Hearing aids can only enhance what you have left. They can’t bring back anything that is gone.
Until science can come up with a way to actually make the tiny hairs in your inner ears regrow, the harvesting of sounds that these hair follicles send to the brain is gone forever.
Once you understand this, you may begin to tolerate what hearing aids can do for you.
I know all this and yet…
Here is my verdict.
They all don’t really solve the problem at this point.
Some, however, do a better job than others.
All have app issues, all have battery life issues, all have noise issues,
All have connectivity issues. All have sound quality issues which will vary from user to user depending on one’s individual problems.
It’s like believing that one TV cable company is better than another. I’ve had four TV cable companies over the years and they all suck. They all freeze, they all have to be rebooted at some point, and they all lose connectivity in some way or another, whether it’s a lost picture or lost sound.
Every hearing aid (no matter what they claim) I tried was subject to digital glitches, which can be maddening.
Most of my friends are not happy with their chosen hearing aids.
There are so many idiosyncrasies involving the familiarity with the devices and their controls (or lack of such, as each company has their own theory as to what their customers may want) that makes these devices a very expensive failure in my opinion.
Forget music streaming in particular.
Apple AirPods, which are no great shakes to an audiophile, are so much better for streaming music it’s almost comical that anyone would ever listen to anything other than talk radio through even very expensive hearing aids. None of the ones I tried sounded good. Not even close to a cheap headset you can buy for $19.99!
Using my hearing aids for phone calls (they stream phone calls) is uniformly terrible, and I’m always asked to please use the phone or speaker and not stream conversations through my hearing devices.
The greatest obscenity in evaluating the currently available supposedly state-of-the-art hearing aids is their cost! In my opinion none of them are worth more than $200. The fact that they cost as much as $6,000 to $8,000 is one of the biggest rip-offs in the medical device world.
I finally made a decision after a year. I won’t tell you what brand I picked out as this article is not about an endorsement, and furthermore, It’s impossible to know what you, the reader (listener) may need or feel comfortable with.
So, you may wonder, how is my hearing with my new hearing aids?
There is greater clarity, but the sound is not natural. It’s the equivalent of turning up the volume and treble on your audio gear and sometimes that can really be painful, especially when walking down a street when an ambulance or police car with sirens blaring goes by. You feel like your head is going to explode.
Also, when going to a live music event I remove them (or turn them off) most of the time and wear ear plugs. It’s ironic that as your hearing deteriorates, louder natural sounds are actually very uncomfortable.
If you experience wind noise, you must also take them out because it sounds and feels like your brain is rattling around inside your head.
There is a lot to understand about the use of hearing aids.
My audiologist has taken me on a journey. One that I never wanted to go on. I can’t say enough good things about her, as her knowledge also showed me that buying anything over the counter without lots of follow up and tweaking is a fool’s errand. To get optimum use out of your hearing aids, a lot of customizing is required, which includes a full mapping [audiogram] of your hearing loss in order to calibrate the hearing aids to your needs. (With over-the-counter hearing aids now available, some give you the ability to adjust them at home, but are you a professional audiologist? Also, there are modifications I can do on the fly, but there are also others that my audiologist can do remotely.)
I can’t stress enough that anyone should do whatever they can to protect ones’ hearing. I wish I did it, not only during the 9,000-plus shows I played, but also the other 2,000-plus hours’ worth of concerts I attended before I ever got into my band. The fact that I have any hearing at all is amazing!
Lastly, as far as my wife is concerned, I now can hear her knockin’, but I’m still not paying any attention to her…
If you have an opinion on this subject, I need to know it. Please give readers your experiences regarding hearing aids.
Thank you for…listening.
Hear Jay Jay’s podcast: The Jay Jay French Connection, Beyond the Music on Apple, Spotify and PodcastOne.
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Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Jo Kassis.