What to think about when buying hearing aids…

UK Hearing Aid Buying Guide 2021 – The 6-step consumer guide for hearing aids

This article aims to take you through the basics of buying hearing aids.  Step by step, the article will explain the process of improving your hearing.

To make an informed choice, you need unbiased information.  At Sound Hearing, we aim to give you all the information you need, to put you in the driving seat to make those decisions.

Many customers have worries and concerns when entering the hearing aid market.  These are the most common questions and worries we encounter:

  • What do hearing aids cost? I have heard they are expensive!
  • Do I really need them? Can I put off getting hearing aids?
  • Which ones are best? How well do they work?  Are they reliable?
  • What do they look like in my ear? Will they be comfortable?  Can I try them first?
  • What if I do not like them? Can I cancel if I am not happy?
  • What is all this terminology and jargon?
  • I just want to hear better. I do not know which to choose!

If you are completely new to buying hearing aids and need to know the basics – this article is for you.  If you are more interested in specific technologies, please read the article, UK Best Hearing aids 2021.

Step 1 – Hearing Tests

Establish your hearing status.  Get a test.  What a test involves.  Why a hearing loss should be taken seriously.  Motivation.

Not many people are over the moon at the thought of getting hearing aids.  Most would rather spend their money on a shiny new car or a lovely holiday.  You must be motivated to get hearing aids.  You must see the positive impact they are going to have on your life.  Many of our customers are initially unhappy about needing hearing aids, but once they have adjusted to the idea, and see the benefits – they often wonder why they didn’t get them sooner.  It is natural to want to put these things off.  Unfortunately, age associated hearing loss doesn’t get better – it just gradually gets worse.  In most cases this process of degeneration is slow.  Hearing loss tends to creep up on us.  We start to notice we can’t hear so well in social situations.  The TV volume is creeping up more than our loved ones would like.  We start to need more and more repetition.  The downside of a hearing loss is that we start to lose the enjoyment of the things we once loved.  Certain tasks become difficult.  We may start to shy away from social activities because joining in has become too difficult, bordering on embarrassing.  The most common signs of a hearing loss are:

  • Thinking people mumble or don’t speak clearly.
  • Having trouble hearing conversations in background noise.
  • Turning the TV up more than you used to.
  • “Pardon?”, “Say that again!”, “What?”, “Eh?”, “Stop mumbling!” If these are things you say more than you used to, it is time to get a test.

If any of this sounds familiar it is a good idea to get a hearing checkup.    Having a hearing test does not commit you to getting hearing aids.  It will simply establish the facts of the situation.  The check-up may reveal that you have a wax blockage, or, a medical issue with the functionality of your ears, that requires attention.  Hearing tests in the UK are generally free.  Your hearing test should involve the following:

  • The audiologist will take a case history to understand the background to your hearing situation.
  • Otoscopy – examination of the outer ear.
  • Audiometry – the test itself. Headphones will be placed over your ears and you will be asked to press a button when you hear sound.  Ensure you have understood the test instructions.  You need accurate results to receive the correct advice.
  • Explanation of the results – a good audiologist will take some time after the test to explain to you your results. Be assertive and ask for a copy of your results.  These are handy to keep for future reference and comparison.
  • Advice – the audiologist will let you know if the results show that you require a medical referral. Sometimes the results indicate the requirement for medical input from and ENT consultant and further testing.  In this case, your audiologist will recommend you initially see your GP, who will then decide whether a further referral is required or not.  In most cases, there is no need for medical referral and the results will plainly show your hearing level.  If your test results are normal or borderline, we recommend a retest in 2 years or sooner if you feel the hearing has declined.  If you have a moderate loss or worse, you will be advised that you will benefit from hearing aids.  It is standard good practice that you will be advised to wear a pair of aids if you have a loss in both ears.  Some customers don’t like the idea of wearing 2 aids and wonder if they can get away with just wearing a single.  The answer is no.  To improve your hearing to the maximum possible level, your brain requires sound from both ears.  We have an ear on each side of our heads – to pick up sound from all directions.  To only correct the loss on one side would only solve half the problem.  Some customers try and delay getting hearing aids at this point – simply because they don’t want to wear hearing aids.  You may be advised to wear hearing aids but you cannot be forced to wear them.  You must see the advantages of wearing aids and be motivated to hear better.  A reputable audiologist will not pressure you into buying hearing aids.  They should give you the facts, answer your questions and, at the very least, leave you with a clear understanding of what your next choices are.
  • The audiologist may offer a demonstration of hearing aids at this stage. Bear in mind they will most likely be top of the range instruments.  Be clear on what technology you are trying.  If you’re try aids in the audiologist’s office you are in a controlled atmosphere, so it will give you an idea of the functioning of the aids but not how they will work in real-world listening situations.  There is no rush.  Take all the information and advice but don’t feel pressured into trying or buying aids if you are not ready.

Step 2 – What Hearing Aid is Right for me?

Think about your budget. Think about your needs. Consider whether to go through the NHS or buy privately.

Having established that you have a loss that requires hearing aids to hear better – you will need to consider the following:

  • How do you feel about wearing hearing aids?
  • Where and in what type of situations do you want to hear better?
  • What type of lifestyle do you have?
  • What is your budget?

Not many people are thrilled by the idea of wearing aids.  Given hearing aids are the solution to get you hearing better and the means to solving the problems you are experiencing – it is worth getting into a positive frame of mind.  No hearing aid will cure you.  No hearing aid will replace your once natural hearing completely.  No hearing aid is perfect.  It is important to get a hearing aid that ticks as many boxes as possible whilst keeping within your budget.

If buying hearing aids privately is not an option – then you should speak to your GP, explain that you have been advised that you need hearing aids and request a referral to NHS ENT.  The NHS will do their own assessment of your hearing and provide you with a pair of aids as standard.  You won’t have choice on what the aids look like.  However, even basic NHS hearing aids are a better option than suffering a hearing loss.  Many people are perfectly happy with NHS aids.  In the private hearing aid world, we only get to meet the people who either immediately know they don’t want NHS aids, or have tried NHS aids and do not get on with them for various reasons.

The private market offers a lot of choice.  Basic hearing aids start from around £500 for a pair and go up to £3700 for a pair.  If your budget is at the low end it may be worth trying the NHS first to see if their products are sufficiently good enough for you.   If you have been offered hearing aids over £4000 for a pair, then you are more than likely paying for the outlet to be positioned on Harley Street, rather than getting better technology.

If you have been given a quote for hearing aids be sure to know what the make and model of the aids are.  You will need to know this to shop around and make price comparisons.  If all you have been given is a price and told it is a mid-range aid – then you can’t possibly know if you are getting value for money.  Take a look at the Sound Hearing website.  We endeavor to keep our prices as low as possible.

As a general rule, the more you spend on hearing technology, the clearer you will hear in the presence of background noise.  If your lifestyle is generally very quiet – then spending out on top end technology may be over egging the pudding.  If you have an active social lifestyle – buying low end technology may be a false economy.

Step 3 – What’s the Next Step in my Hearing Journey?

Do your research. Talk to family and friends. Speak to us for advice.

There is a mass of freely available unbiased information on the internet.  The more useful websites are those that aim to help in your decision making, rather than trying to sell you hearing aids.

Many of our customers will talk about value for money.  Whatever your budget, it is important that the end result is one that you are happy with, and don’t regret.

Speak to your family – you may find they are very supportive.  Family and friends will want what is best for you.  Speak to people who already wear hearing aids.  Don’t be put off if they have had a bad experience – use their bad experience to your advantage.  Don’t repeat their mistakes.  Here are some of the common mistakes people make when purchasing hearing aids – which lead to regret and disappointment:

“The hearing aids are small and neat but don’t sound good.”

Some people rush towards hearing aids based solely on cosmetic appeal.  It doesn’t matter how small the aid – if you can’t hear well, then it is a waste of money.  Make sure you are happy with the sound – not just the look.  Take advantage of trials and take advantage of the cancellation period if you are not happy.

“The hearing aids were good to begin with but don’t work anymore.”

Hearing aids need care and maintenance.  Putting something in your ear and wearing it day after day – the aid will inevitably get dirty and clogged with wax.  A dirty hearing aid simply won’t work well.  Sometimes this poor performance of the aids is down to user error.  Make sure you understand how to care for your aids.  Have a read of our article Hearing Aid Care and Maintenance.  Take advantage of the aftersales service from your provider.  Sound Hearing offer free aftersales services to help maintain your hearing aids and keep them performing to their best ability.  Most aids come with a guarantee against defects.  Some people fail to take advantage of the guarantee and put up with faulty products.  Speak to your audiologist and get the aids sorted.

“The hearing aids were expensive, and I regret buying them.”

Follow the advice of this article and hopefully, this won’t be you.  Try before you buy, ensure good aftersales service, get a long guarantee, do your research, have reasonable expectations.  You will understandably be disappointed if you were expecting perfection.  Understanding the limitations of what is achievable will save heartache later.

“The hearing aids don’t cut out background noise.”

Hearing technology has improved vastly in recent years but they are no magic wand to perfect hearing in all listening situations.  They are not able to eliminate all the sounds you would rather not hear and only focus on the voice you do.  Sometimes customers appear to have been over-sold on the capability of the technology.  The reality is that the latest technology goes a long way in improving hearing in background noise, but you are still required to concentrate and listen.  Even normal hearing struggles at times in difficult listening situations.

“I am forever changing batteries.”

Some of the small and discreet hearing aids take small batteries that may only last a few days.  For some they are fiddly to change and, annoyingly, may need changing when you are in the middle of a social situation.  If battery operated aids are your choice – ensure you change to fresh batteries before an important engagement and always carry spares with you.  If the idea of this bothers you, then consider getting technology that is rechargeable.  Rechargeable hearing technology comes with a docking station where the aids recharge overnight.  Generally, all new technology is launched in rechargeable format first, because it is so popular.

When doing research, try not to get too overwhelmed by the jargon.  Read our article, Hearing Aid Technology Jargon Buster 2021.  Hearing aids are packed with technology features.  These features are sometimes hard to get your head around whether they are important for you, or not.

Technology features can be divided into three categories; (1) those that help you hear more clearly, (2) those that make the listening experience more comfortable, and (3) secondary tech features to help you engage with other technology.  Here are some examples of each category:

  1. Clarifying features: Number of processing channels/fitting bands.  Directional microphone technology.  Automated environmental response.  Frequency reprocessing.  Compression levels.  Frequency bandwidth.
  2. Comfort features: Wind noise management.  Noise reduction.  Sudden noise management.  Feedback management.  Tinnitus management.
  3. Secondary Tech Features. Loop/Telecoil.  Bluetooth capability.  Rechargeable batteries.  Interface accessories.

Ideally, you want the best clarity possible for your budget – so focus on clarifying features primarily.  The clarifying features can scientifically be proven to improve your ability to hear.  Comfort features are nice to have, and certainly make the overall experience better, but don’t necessarily improve your ability to hear.  Many secondary tech features come as standard in the latest products, but small and discreet hearing aids often forgo these features, to help reduce the size of the aid.

When it all gets too much, a good audiologist should help you sort out what features are necessary for you.  Give us a call, to see if we can help.

Step 4 – Request a free hearing aid trial

Narrow down your choice and try some hearing aids.  Try before you buy!

Having given it some thought, and done your research, you are now ready to try some aids.  Until you get them in your ears – you can’t judge them.  If you are new to wearing hearing aids – you have nothing to compare to.  For those that have tried some aids – you are in a better position to judge whether they are better than what you have already experienced.

When you trial the aids – you will need at least a few days and try them in a variety of different situations.  Bear in mind, if you are very new to wearing amplification – the first few days will be spend readjusting to many aspects, from insertion and the physical feel in your ears, to hearing unfamiliar sounds.  After a few days, things will start to feel more normal and you will be able to judge the effectiveness of the aids.  Relaxing in front of the tv, is a good test.  Set the tv volume to your usual setting, without the aids – then put the aids in, and see how much the volume needs to be reduced.  Focus not just on the volume, but specifically the clarity of the sound.  The quality of the aid is judged on sound clarity, rather than volume.  Make sure you physically feel comfortable.  Make sure they are secure in your ears.

After the initial trial, I will ask my customers how they have got on – good and bad.  It is common for there to be a few niggling teething troubles to begin with.  Tell your audiologist everything – many small problems are easily resolved.  If you feel the issues are sorted, and you don’t want to hand them back – buy them, but ensure you still have a period to return the aids and get a full refund.

Sound Hearing offer a full 60 day money back guarantee, following a free trial, and payment. During the cancellation period, you should be feeling progressively more settled and feeling confident. If you are having regrets, or you have unresolved issues – take advantage of the cancellation, and either get your money back, or take the offer of an exchange.  You should be offered another period of refund and cancellation on the exchange aids.

Step 5 – Take Time to get Used to Your Hearing Aids

Give the aids a chance. Rehabilitation.

Adjusting to wearing new aids normally takes a few weeks.  Things should improve slowly, but steadily.  You should be aiming to get to the stage of forgetting you are wearing the aids, because they start to feel natural.  Give your brain time to adjust.  To do this you will need to wear them EVERYDAY.  Your brain needs time, like a muscle, to adapt.  If you don’t wear them enough, you don’t give the brain that chance.  Of course, if they don’t feel comfortable, secure, or the sound is plainly wrong – you can’t be blamed for not wanting to wear them.  It is your responsibility to let your audiologist know if you are having issues.  At Sound Hearing we always book at least one follow up appointment with our customers during the initial period – to make sure we pick up on any issues and continually improve the listening experience and comfort.

It is worth repeating, if you are not happy CANCEL!  The last thing we want is unhappy customers.  If you are not getting on well, we want you to have your money back!  We want you to hear well and feel you have good value for money.  Don’t be talked into keeping aids that you aren’t happy with.

Step 6 – Take care of your Hearing Aids

Consider the future. Looking after aids.  See our guide to Hearing Aid Care and Maintenance.  Ensure after sales service.  Get insurance. 

Inevitably, over time, the aids will need care and maintenance – and breakdowns do occur.  Don’t panic – check for simple faults or call your audiologist.  Follow the advice on cleaning and maintaining your hearing aids.

Make sure that aftersales service is priced into the cost of the aids, so you are not hit with costly aftercare bills.  Most reputable audiologists offer a free after-care service.  However, not all after-care service is equal.  Check what kind of service your audiologist provides.  Some aids are supplied at a discount rate – but offer no after-sales service.  This should be weighed up carefully.

We always recommend getting your hearing aids insured against loss.  This gives you peace of mind.  Most housing contents insurance will allow you to cover your aids under “personal possession cover” – which covers the aids for loss, or total damage, in or out of the home.  Call your insurance provider and check.

Your Hearing Journey with Sound Hearing

My name is Louise MacBride.  I am a senior audiologist, registered to practice with the HCPC.  I have 16 years industry experience, guiding customers to the best hearing technology for their needs.  I hope this article has been helpful.

Call: 0208 103 1650, to chat about your hearing.

Email: info@soundhearing.org

Useful links to other articles mentioned:

UK Best Hearing aids 2022

Hearing Aid Care and Maintenance