by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
I am considering buying new hearing aids as mine are about 10 years old and are not digital. Are the digital ones really that much better? Also, what features would you suggest I look for? I’d appreciate your thoughts on all this.
Here are my views on this issue. As far as the quality of sound goes, digital hearing aids do not produce better sound than analog hearing aids. This was proved by one audiologist. He recorded speech through a digital aid and an analog aid. He then played these two examples to a group of fellow audiologists and asked them to vote. Surprisingly, they voted for the analog aid as producing the better sound. So don’t listen to all the hype that says that digitals produce so much better sound.
However, digital aids do have some nice features that analog ones don’t have. Besides it is getting harder and harder to find someone selling analog aids now.
Here is the list of features you should look for in your new aid–depending on your hearing loss and your typical listening environment.
First, you want hearing aids with telecoils (t-coils). If they don’t have t-coils, don’t get them. That’s how important they are–even if you don’t know what a t-coil is or how to use it at this point. Just make sure you have them. Telecoils allow you to couple your hearing aid with a great variety of assistive listening devices to give you unbelievably clear sound.
Second, if you get automatic anything, such as automatic t-coils, automatic volume control, automatic adaptive programs, etc., make sure you can manually over-ride each automatic feature. If you don’t, you could be very sorry. If you find you don’t often need to manually over-ride your new hearing aid’s computer, great, but you will be able to do so when you need to.
Third, you should get either directional microphones and/or noise-canceling microphones on your hearing aids. This can really help you in noisy situations. Some hearing aids are much better in this regard that others, so you have to try them out to see which works the best in your situation.
Fourth, you want excellent wide band dynamic compression or the equivalent. This feature amplifies softer sounds yet, at the same time, doesn’t allow louder sounds to become so loud they hurt. This is very important if you have severe recruitment like I have. However, watch out, some hearing aids are set so that they cut the sound out at times, which is very disconcerting and totally unnecessary in my opinion. Others distort compressed sounds quite a bit. Again, try your aids out under different conditions and have them adjusted as many times as needed to get the compression set to work properly for your ears. If your audiologist can’t do this, dump those hearing aids and try someone else.
Fifth, get hearing aids with feedback suppression, especially if your present hearing aids squeal a lot. This is cool feature, but be careful, there are different types of feedback suppression. Some just reduce the amplification at that frequency. You don’t want this, or else you’ll not be able to hear any sounds at that frequency. Good feedback suppression circuitry senses the feedback condition, and suppresses it without affecting the sound quality.
Sixth, make sure your new hearing aids have plenty of reserve power so if your hearing deteriorates further, you don’t have to buy new aids in a year or two. For example, my hearing aids are now 9 years old, yet I still have plenty of reserve power, even though my hearing has been dropped quite a bit in the last two years.
There are a number of other features you should consider, such as the number of programs the hearing aids have–typically 3 or 4; the number of channels they can be adjusted by–typically somewhere between 7 and 16; whether they have direct audio input (DAI) connections; whether they have integrated FM receivers, and the list goes on.
However, the first six things are those features I’d particularly want.
In addition, you want to get your hearing aids from a reputable company, and you want a good audiologist that is willing to work with you to program them to work the best they can for you.