When we first start to wear a hearing aid perhaps one of the last things on our mind is how soon it will need replacing. But, like all electronic devices, it has a definite working life.
With technology now so fast-moving, how can we know when it is the right time to replace a hearing aid? Here are a few things to think about.
Wear and tear
If you are one of those people who use things until they break, with no thought of upgrading to the latest model, eventually your hearing aid will break and it will not be worth repairing.
Hearing aids have to function in a fairly inhospitable environment. The ear is warm, moist, salty and waxy and over a number of years these factors will overwhelm the electronics of the hearing aid.
A modern hearing aid is essentially a small computer that you wear behind your ear and the same sorts of improvements that are seen in computers are seen in hearing aids. We may see better quality and more robust components such as microphones which can lead to performance improvements. However, the main change is that the microprocessor becomes more powerful and this can lead to some major benefits.
Firstly, more processing power means better background noise reduction. This is because the hearing aid is better able to ‘clean’ the sound signal and get rid of the things that the wearer does not want to hear.
Secondly, better directional hearing, particularly if you wear two hearing aids. They can talk to each other and form a three dimensional picture of your environment and help focus on what you are trying to hear.
Thirdly, if you have a high-power hearing aid and whistling is a problem, modern sound processing technology can be a great help in reducing or eliminating this problem.
Fourthly, modern hearing aids have enough memory capacity to record how you are using your hearing aid, which programs you are using and for how long, what volume adjustments you are making and what type of sound environments you are in. This all helps with fine tuning and optimising the program settings for the user.
As well as the technology features listed above, which are to some degree invisible to the user, there are features that can be accessed directly to improve the performance of the hearing aid. Examples of this include hearing aids that connect seamlessly to landline and mobile phones by Bluetooth without the need for the hearing aid wearer to do anything.
There are also a new generation of television adaptors that work in a similar way. This means that the hearing aid wearer gets the sound level of their choice without affecting other people watching the TV. Hearing aids can now be controlled by mobile phones as remote controls and it is possible to stream music to hearing aids from a smartphone.
This may seem like a fairly trivial benefit, but for tinnitus sufferers the idea of being able to listen to Mozart rather than their tinnitus is an appealing one.
Increasing hearing loss
As well as the technical improvements in hearing aids, sometimes they need to be upgraded due to increasing hearing loss. When a hearing aid is fitted we try to anticipate the deterioration in hearing that is likely to occur over the working life of the hearing aid and build in enough reserve. Sometimes hearing changes outside of our normal estimates and hearing aids need to be upgraded to cope with this.
More demands on hearing
Sometimes it is not the hearing loss that changes, but the demands that are placed upon hearing increase. A basic hearing aid my do very well for listening to TV and family members at home. But if you decide to learn a foreign language or become the chair of a committee or something similar, you may need to upgrade your technology to meet these increasing demands.
So sometimes it makes sense to wear a hearing aid until it starts to let you down, but very often there are other reasons to upgrade and real benefits from doing so. It’s important to know what is available and to keep in touch with your audiologist so that you upgrade your hearing aid at the time that is right for you.