Explained: hearing loss and hearing aids

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An ageing population in Australia is resulting in a spike in the number of people with hearing loss. We asked Specsavers audiologist Nick Taylor to explain the extent of the problem and the aids available.

YourLifeChoices: How many Australians are affected by hearing loss and what are the repercussions if hearing loss is ignored?

Nick Taylor: Hearing loss affects about 3.6 million Australians every year and, unfortunately, only about a third of that number do something about it. Those who don’t, quite often experience other health challenges. We believe that significant contributors to this concerning statistic are the lack of price transparency and high prices. Only a few years ago, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that a pair of hearing aids can cost anywhere between $1500 and $15,000.

What age groups are most at risk of hearing loss?

Hearing loss doesn’t discriminate and can affect anyone at any age. It rarely happens overnight. In fact, for most people, the hearing loss has developed gradually over many years. Hearing-impaired people often forget what they used to hear and become comfortable with a duller and muted world. They often do not know what they are missing out on.

How does hearing loss affect people?

Untreated hearing loss affects a person’s quality of life and leads to isolation and avoidance of communication or social situations. This withdrawal behaviour may be heightened at family gatherings and in noisy environments such as restaurants, bars and crowded rooms. 

What are the warning signs?

Common signs of hearing loss that people should look out for include:

  • asking people to repeat themselves
  • turning to the source of the sound and leaning in to get closer to the person speaking
  • turning up the volume on the television or radio.

It’s important to recognise these signs so you can take steps to stay socially connected and fully engaged in life. 

Are there ways to protect our hearing?

As well as having your hearing routinely checked every two years, top tips to protect your own hearing would be:

  • When unavoidably exposed to loud noise, insist on wearing personal hearing protection such as earplugs, earmuffs or both.
  • Limit the level and time you use earphones to listen to music or podcasts.
  • Remember that everyday equipment, such as lawnmowers and power tools, may be loud enough to damage your hearing.
  • Reduce the number of different noises at any one time. Simultaneous conversations, working power tools, as well as a loud radio can place undue strain on your ears.

 

What do hearing aids cost and are there any concessions for older Australians?

Only a few years ago, the ACCC found that a pair of hearing aids can cost anywhere between $1500 and $15,000.

Many patients are unaware of the cost of hearing aids before they start their hearing restoration journey. In fact, in a lot of cases, patients aren’t told the cost of the hearing aids until the end of the journey, with some then paying more than $10,000 – and that’s more than they need to. It’s not fair and it shouldn’t be happening – the price of a hearing aid should never be a surprise.

If you’re being asked to pay more than $3995 for a pair of the latest rechargeable hearing aids, you should go elsewhere.

How can consumers judge which hearing aids are right for them?

The audiologist needs to take the time to properly understand patients’ needs and ensure they receive the right aid for their hearing loss and lifestyle.

Patients should demand transparency in pricing. It is the only way they can ensure they are accessing fair and affordable hearing aids without any surprises.

If consulting an audiology professional and you are recommended hearing aids, ask your clinician:

  • “What is the cost of the hearing devices you recommend?” Don’t feel pressured to commit to the first price. Shop around.
  • “Why are you recommending this hearing aid specifically?” Are all the recommended features necessary for your desired quality of life?
  •  “What options do I have to return or get a refund if I’m not happy?” If so, “what are the conditions?” This will help ensure that any free trials or satisfaction guarantees offered are genuine and not sales focused.

Can you get a refund if the hearing aid is not a success?

Opt for an outlet that offers a 90-day money back satisfaction period. Ask about after care and the details of the warranty.

Do you have some hearing loss? Have you been ignoring it? Did you know the cost of a hearing aid?

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