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  • Cameron Oglesby

The best OTC hearing aid is the one that’s best for you. (Part 1)

Last week, in my post about shopping for over-the-counter hearing aids, I advised that since no two people – not even identical twins – are exactly alike in everything, you should make sure your OTC hearing aids will be right for you.

OTC hearing aids come in some 95 different models from 18 different brands, which means tons of research before you narrow down to the finalists. But don’t worry. The National Council on Aging has done the heavy lifting for you.

After 5,300 hours of research, consultations with a dozen audiologists and geriatric care experts, mystery shopping all 18 brands, surveying hundreds of hearing aid users, testing different OTC hearing aid models, interviewing experts in the field, and wading through thousands of verified customer reviews, they narrowed the field down to the best in each of nine categories.

You can read their full reviews here. Or, to define which category is most important to you and responsive to your needs, just keep reading for the highlights. The first four categories are below, and I’ll post highlights of the remaining five next week.

Best for Seniors: Jabra Enhance

Their four models cost from $799 to $1,995 a pair and come in receiver-in-canal and in-the-ear styles. Three of them have rechargeable batteries. The top two models have 30-hour life between recharges, while the cheapest model’s battery life is only 12 hours. They all have Bluetooth and mobile app capabilities, and two (surprisingly the lowest- and highest-priced models) support hands-free calling. Settings are adjustable with the manufacturer’s app.

You can submit the results of an in-person hearing test or of Jabra Enhance’s free online hearing screening, and their in-house audiology team will use them to program your hearing aids.

All models come with a 100-day, no-commitment, trial. Premium models come with three years of telehealth support, along with a three-year warranty that covers not only defects, but also loss and theft.

Most Affordable: Audien

At just $99 to $249 a pair, Audien’s barely noticeable in-the-canal hearing aids are, as you’d expect, very basic. That means no Bluetooth, no directional mikes, noise reduction, or other sound-processing features. There’s only one listening profile. The only adjustment you can make is for volume, and you'll need a small screwdriver (provided with the hearing aids) to change that.

Customer service is by online form and online chat.

The hearing aids are not water-resistant. Also, no financing options are available. But at those prices, who needs them?

Most Financing Options: Audicus

In addition to an 18-month leasing option, Audicus offers five different payment plans. With prices ranging from $1,398 to $2,998 a pair, you may need one.

Their four models are good for mild to severe hearing losses. Three of them also come with Bluetooth and mobile app capability, and rechargeable batteries. All four are water-resistant and come with a two-year warranty, a 45-day trial period, color choices, and adjustment by app or through buttons on the device. In addition to color, you can choose between receiver-in-canal, behind-the-ear, and in-canal styles.

On the downside, battery life is below average.

Financing options include 12-month, no-interest payment; a low-credit-score plan for their two most expensive models; and 6-, 12-, or 18-month direct finance plans.

An attractive alternative is leasing your hearing aids for 18 months at $89 to $159 per month, depending on model, and enjoying benefits including:

· Free support from Audicus hearing specialists

· Regular supply shipments (of disposable batteries, for example)

· Care and cleaning at no extra cost

· Insurance against loss or damage

· A new pair of hearing aids every 18 months.

Best Invisible Fit: Eargo

Eargo’s three completely-in-ear models are so small, says the NCOA, “you can barely see them.” But invisible models like these may not be right for every type or degree of hearing loss, which is why it’s good to see an audiologist or use the Eargo website’s free online hearing screening before you buy.

Eargo’s 45-day trial period is different from most others, in that they send you a set of non-working tips and domes in a variety of styles and sizes, so you can see if you’ll be comfortable.

There are four settings for self-fitting adjustment, which you can change via app, by tapping the hearing aid, or with remote assistance by either phone call or chat. The remote specialist support is free, live, and lifetime.

Depending on model, warranties are for either one or two years and cover unlimited repairs and a one-time replacement.

Two downsides: First, these hearing aids are too tiny to have room for Bluetooth capability, so if you’re hoping to use them for hands-free calling or listening to music stored on your phone, you’re out of luck. And second, battery life is below average.

When it comes to OTC hearing aids, along with just about everything else, different people have different needs, different priorities, and different preferences. 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.

That’s why our very first step in custom-designing a coordinated senior care management plan at Senior Insights is to learn all about the individual we’ll be caring for. Our thorough three-part needs assessment goes beyond each client’s physical needs to learn about their emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial needs as well. So please contact us to learn more. You’ll like what you hear.

Next Week: Most User-Friendly, Best Remote Customer Service, Best Rechargeable for the Money, Best Variety, Best Earbud-Style

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