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  • Cameron Oglesby

Now that you can buy hearing aids over the counter, should you?

A little over six months ago, the FDA approved the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids. Without a series of doctor or audiologist appointments, hearing tests, prescriptions and fittings. And for at as much as $3,000 below the price of a pair of prescription models.

But just because buying hearing aids is simpler, that doesn’t mean it’s simple. Except for the dollar amounts involved, there’s more to it than just going into, say, a computer store, picking out the laptop or tablet you want, swiping or tapping your credit card, and using your new purchase as soon as you unwrap it.

Here are some things you need to know about OTC hearing aids before you shop for a pair:

· Can they really help you? OTC hearing aids are good for amplification and tuning out unwanted noises, but not necessarily for frequency loss. If you have mild to moderate loss – if your hearing’s good for one-on-one conversations but you have trouble making out voices in a crowd, with background noise, on the phone, at a distance, or in a lecture hall – they’re probably right for you. But if your hearing loss goes beyond that, you’ll still need a prescription pair. The most foolproof way to find out is to schedule a hearing test with an audiologist. Medicare advantage Plans have covered annual hearing tests, and now traditional Medicare does too.

· How customized do you want the settings to be? Some OTC hearing aids are “self-fitting,” which means more like do-it-yourself. “You’ll know it’s self-fitting if the product description talks about putting the device in your ear and completing a hearing test, either online at the manufacturer’s website or on an app, so you can adjust the controls and fine-tune the devices,” Meaghan Reed, director of Clinical Audiology at Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital explains. Preset OTC hearing aids come with a few predetermined settings for different levels of hearing loss; the only thing you can adjust is volume control. While the controls for self-fitting OTC hearing aids are online, preset hearing aids’ controls are on the devices themselves.

· Should your hearing aids be “FDA cleared” or just “FDA registered”? Manufacturers of self-fitting hearing aids need to demonstrate to the FDA that their products have been tested, that their volume control outputs and volume limits, among other things, are safe, and that they’re effective for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. They’re called “FDA cleared.” Preset OTC hearing aids must be registered with the FDA and meet FDA standards, but don’t have to show that the devices are safe. They’re called “FDA registered.”

· How much are you prepared to pay? Prescription hearing aids start at about $4,000 a pair. A pair of OTC hearing aids can start as low as $99 a pair and can go up to just under $3,000. You get what you pay for.

· Start shopping before you shop. Either online or in-store, check out the looks, features, and prices of different brands and models. Will you want to make all the adjustments yourself, or would you rather have preset functions give you less to fuss with? How important is battery life? Bluetooth connectivity that lets you hear your phone calls on your hearing aids? Since no two people – not even identical twins – are exactly alike in everything, make sure your OTC hearing aids will be right for you.

· Two must-have features: They’re not built into the hearing aids themselves, but you shouldn’t buy hearing aids without them. One is a customer service department that you can call if you’re having trouble fitting the devices or if they’re not working the way they’re supposed to. The other is a trial period. You’re buying hearing aids for the long haul, so you’ll need to try them out for a while, make sure they’re right for you, and return them if they aren’t.

The real question about choosing an OTC hearing aid isn’t which one is best, but which is best for you. So before you shop, think about whether style, (in)visibility, price, variety, ease of use, battery life, customer service, or some other criterion is most important to you.

Not surprisingly, the same holds true for senior care management. No two clients are ever exactly alike, and all have different physical and psychosocial needs, different priorities, values, preferences, lifestyles, schedules and interests.

So please contact us to learn more. You’ll like what you hear.

Next Week: Which are the best OTC hearing aids?

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