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Hearing Aids Work, but Only if You Do

Consumer Reports: Hearing Aid Is Only Part of Hearing Restoration Process

Hearing Loss Treatment continued...

Consumer Reports warns that not all hearing professionals are equal. Audiologists generally must have a doctoral degree (usually the AuD), pass national tests, and have extensive clinical training. Hearing-aid specialists have from six months to two years of supervised training or a two-year college degree, and in most states must pass licensing tests.

However, the study found that both types of hearing professionals made mistakes in fitting the hearing aids that the 12 shoppers bought. About two-thirds of the time, they ended up with the wrong hearing aid settings.

Which hearing aid was best? The testers from Consumer Reports found that the behind-the-ear, open-fit models worked best for the vast majority of people. But they weren't cheap; these models range in price from $1,850 to $2,700 apiece.

Consumer Reports did not compare brands, but it did test some nonprescription hearing aids. These were inexpensive, but Consumer Reports gave them low marks.

How to Hear Better With Your Hearing Aid

Hearing rehabilitation is much more than getting fitted with the proper hearing aid, says Boothroyd, now scholar in residence at San Diego State University.

"The one factor that always emerges from hearing-rehabilitation studies is the time people spend practicing," Boothroyd says. "A lot of people, depending on their personality, will not be deterred, and they will spend time doing what needs to be done. Others will be intimidated and will withdraw from communication situations. For them, it might be better to have formal training materials."

Self-motivated individuals don't just stick their hearing aids in their ears and go home. They go out right away and test them in different situations: at parties, in theaters, in front of the TV, in quiet conversations, at restaurants, and in crowds. They make note of the situations where they have the most difficulty, and then work with their hearing professional on improving their hearing in these situations.

One highly self-motivated individual -- Brenda Battat, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America -- told Consumer Reports that she practiced listening to long-winded messages at the 800 numbers of the IRS and Social Security Administration.

But there's lots of help out there. Support groups, often organized by hearing professionals, help people practice hearing in different situations.

"Local groups can tell you, 'Hey, at this theater they show first-run movies with captions,' or 'That theater has a special sound system for people with hearing impairment.' Those groups can tune you in to that stuff and discuss strategies," Stanger says.

Boothroyd notes that there are computer programs that people can use to improve their hearing skills. Whichever method is used, he says, time on task -- practice -- is the most important part.

"There are many issues involved in hearing rehabilitation," Boothroyd says. "It is not just information and learning, but also psychosocial issues of adjustment. People have different personalities and react differently to the challenges posed by hearing loss."

The hearing report appears in the July issue of Consumer Reports.

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