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Hearing aid alternatives: an in-depth review

Hearing aid alternative user experience hearing loss

Sitting in his bright garden in California, David Sheehan remembers his early days with bittersweetness. He’s recollecting events that, he says, can explain his current relationship with hearing loss.

“The hard rock and the acid rock and heavy metal… we did a lot of damage to our ears,” Sheehan says.

David is far from the only one experiencing gradually worsening hearing loss. The condition is on the rise across the globe as people live longer lives.

Age-related hearing loss worsens gradually. In the beginning, many people aren’t even aware they have hearing loss. But high-pitched sounds such as alarms, birds singing, or the voices of women and children (who tend to have higher pitches) are more difficult to hear.

If you notice you have difficulty understanding other people or catch yourself asking others to repeat themselves on a regular basis, it might be time for a visit to an audiologist. The hearing professional will then examine you, administer a hearing test, and determine your level of hearing loss.

Fortunately, many types of hearing aids and hearing-aid alternatives offer relief for every type of hearing loss. David has tried several approaches. Keep reading to learn more about the best hearing technologies available today.

Hearing aids

Invented at the end of the 19th century, hearing aids are small devices that tuck behind the ear and include a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The microphone picks up sound around the wearer and converts it into a digital signal, which is then amplified and sent into the ear via the speaker. A hearing test determines the wearer’s specific needs, such as the frequencies that are the hardest to hear. Your audiologist will then recommend the hearing aid that best fits you. Styles include behind-the-ear hearing aids, which contain most of the electronics in a plastic container that sits behind the ear, in-the-ear hearing aids, which fit in the ear without a need for a second component, and other variations.

hearing aids, improve listening, hearing aid alternatives

Hearing aids are a popular choice for different types of hearing loss. Still, only about 14% of people over 50 who need hearing aids actually wear them. Reasons include stigma, convenience, and price. The average cost of a pair of hearing aids is around $4,000 but can be as high as $8,000 or more. Direct-to-consumer hearing aids sold online are cheaper and often give good results, but there are some drawbacks like a lack of tailoring to the wearer’s specific needs. 

David Sheehan was reluctant to wear hearing aids since he felt they couldn’t help him discern spoken words better.  “I would argue with my wife and say, I don’t need a hearing aid, because I’m only going to hear the incorrect word louder. And that is not what I need. I need to hear the correct word as it was said,” Sheehan says.

For those who want to give them a try, hearing aids might soon be even easier to attain. In 2017, Congress passed a law requiring the FDA to create a new category for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids that wouldn’t need a doctor’s prescription and appointment. These OTC hearing aids are expected to be significantly cheaper than prescription hearing aids, but delays by the FDA mean they haven’t been approved yet. However, approval is expected to happen sometime in 2022.

PSAPs

Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) are a less expensive alternative to the average pair of hearing aids. PSAPs look like variations of earbuds and cost between $20 and several hundreds of dollars per device. While hearing aids are usually sold in pairs, PSAPs are bought per individual ear.

As the name implies, PSAPs amplify the sounds around the wearer. In contrast to hearing aids, PSAPs are not custom fitted and don’t take factors like distortion into account. While hearing aids are regulated by the FDA, PSAPs are not, so it’s important to do your research before buying a pair. A good pair of sound amplifiers can offer relief and make it easier to participate in conversations and social events. But a cheap amplifier or one of bad quality can further hurt your hearing. Indiscriminately amplifying already loud sounds, such as alarms, can worsen existing damage, while distortion caused by some amplifiers can lead to even worse sound perception.

TV listening equipment

Do you have trouble hearing the tv, but even the loudest setting isn’t loud enough? Or is your family annoyed at the high volume? TV listening devices might be a good alternative for your problem.

Some hearing aids can be connected directly to the TV or other devices via Bluetooth. Once paired, it’s easy to switch to streaming sound.

Induction loops pick up sound from the tv and transmit it to your hearing aid when you switch your hearing aid to the telecoil setting. Induction loops come as neck loops for individual use but can also run the perimeter of a room. This is often the case in public buildings. A blue sign depicting an ear signals that the system is installed in a room.

hearing loss tools hearing aid alternative hearing loop

TV headphones are a good option for people who don’t wear hearing aids. They look similar to regular headphones and come as in-ear and over-the-ear options. The headphones can be connected to most TVs and adjusted for volume without affecting the volume coming from the TV.

Closed captions are a good alternative if you don’t have other TV aids handy or if you’re trying to make the content more accessible for several people in the room. Publicly broadcast programs and streaming services are required to provide closed captions by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Just hit the button labeled CC on your remote or navigate to the settings of your streaming device to turn on captions.

Specialized phones

Some people with hearing loss read lips to help them better understand conversations. Phones make this impossible, which is why some might find themselves trying to avoid making phone calls altogether. Fortunately, amplified phones exist to make calls easier.

Amplified landline phones usually feature bigger buttons and a screen, a volume boost, noise reductions, different voice settings, and an extra loud ring tone. If you’re on the go or prefer using your cell phone, external amplifiers that can be connected to your phone are another option. If amplifiers aren’t quite meeting your needs you could try captioning phones. The phone’s base features a large screen that displays live captions as you talk to the person on the other end.

All states offer programs that make accessible telephone equipment available to qualified individuals. Check out this list by the Hearing Loss Association of America to learn more about your state’s eligibility requirements.

Neosensory Clarify

hearing aid alternative clarify listening tool

Unlike hearing aids and sound amplifiers, Neosensory Clarify uses the wearer’s wrist to send information to the brain. Four motors along the wristband vibrate in response to speech around the user and turn each sound into a unique vibrational pattern. Over time, the brain learns to interpret these patterns and match them to sounds. Users report better outcomes in understanding conversations than the average hearing aid user.

While hearing aids and amplifiers can cause listening fatigue or cause further hearing damage if not adjusted correctly, there is no danger of hurting your ears with Clarify. Users say they like the band’s discreet appearance, price point compared to hearing aids, and, of course, the ability to hear their loved ones better.

David Sheehan was excited when he heard about the new technology.

“When this product came on the market, I instinctively knew that this is exactly what I was looking for,” he says.

You can read more about David’s experience in this blog post.

Choosing the right product for you

While hearing aids might seem like the obvious answer for hearing loss, there are many options on the market that can allow you to find the product that best suits your lifestyle and level of hearing loss.

If you find yourself having difficulty understanding conversations or don’t catch all sounds around you, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with an audiologist or ENT specialist before buying any type of hearing technology. It’s important to rule out any conditions that might require further treatment. If you’d like to speak with an audiologist from the comfort of your home, you can schedule a free call on the Neosensory Clarify page.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to support@neosensory.com if you’d like to learn more about the hearing solutions we offer.

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