If you’re the type of person who researches a product before making the decision to purchase it, you may have noticed that while hearing aid product information is readily available on the internet, it’s not always easy to understand what it all means. Seeing a hearing specialist for a comprehensive hearing assessment will help you narrow down your options so that you can find the most suitable hearing device for your circumstances based on your level of hearing difficulty, lifestyle and hearing needs. It is during this appointment where hearing aid features are usually explained.
However, for those looking to do some independent research, either before or after your hearing assessment, comparing different manufacturer’s hearing aids can be difficult. The reason for this is that while most hearing aid manufacturers have some similar features in their hearing aids (albeit, working in different ways according to that manufacturer’s unique philosophy) they might call it a different name. This can make comparing one hearing aid to another a challenging task. There are also some very unique features only available to a particular manufacturer’s hearing aids and at certain technology levels only, but here are some of the more common features explained:
Channels. The number of channels in a hearing aid refers to the number of handles or sliders that can be used to adjust the hearing aid to your hearing levels. If you have a high frequency (or high-pitched) hearing loss, then a hearing aid needs to be adjusted to amplify sounds in the higher pitches rather than in the lower pitches (think of this feature as similar to a graphic equaliser). More channels means greater flexibility in matching the hearing aid amplification to your hearing levels, so it sounds better for you (and the other features in the device can work within each channel to also improve the overall sound quality and hearing aid performance).
Omnidirectional Microphone. When a hearing aid is omnidirectional, it means that it is using one microphone to pick up sounds. The microphone is equally sensitive to sounds all around you.
Directional Microphone. Directional microphones mean that the hearing aid is using two microphones. This is particularly useful in situations where there is background noise. Directional microphones will focus more on the sounds in front of you, as opposed to the sounds next to you or behind you. This can help improve speech understanding in noisy situations by reducing competing sounds from the sides and behind you.
Automatic Directionality. Automatic directionality means that the hearing aid will switch between omnidirectional and directional microphone modes without you having to do anything, based on the listening environment.
Adaptive Directionality. Similar to automatic directionality, hearing aids with an adaptive directionality system automatically switch into a directional microphone mode when required, but they also adapt to the changes in noise your listening environment. This means that they can provide additional advantages when there are several sources of noise around you by changing how they are working to reduce the extraneous sound. Adaptive directionality is more effective when a hearing aid has more channels.
Feedback Management. A feedback management system is designed to reduce the amount of feedback (that annoying whistling that is familiar to many hearing aid wearers). There are different ways in which a hearing aid’s feedback system can work, and some manufacturer’s feedback systems work better than others.
Noise Reduction/Suppression. This feature refers to how the hearing aid works in noisy situations to increase listening comfort while trying to maintain speech understanding. Hearing aid manufacturers use different algorithms in their hearing aids to achieve this.
Impulse/Transient Noise Reduction. This feature can help reduce the impact sudden loud sounds such as clanging dishes and make them sound more comfortable.
Programs. This simply refers to different settings that might be programmed into the hearing aids for you to access if you want to override the automatic directionality setting. This can usually be accessed via a push button or toggle switch on the hearing aid itself, or via remote control.
Binaural Synchronisation/Linkage. This feature means that if you have been fitted in both ears with hearing aids, the two devices are able to communicate with each other so that sound is more synchronised to improve your overall listening experience. The benefits of this include improved localisation (the ability to tell where sounds are coming from), improved awareness of your listening environment and subsequent reduction in mental strain when listening to a conversation in noise. Some hearing aids also utilise binaural synchronisation to allow for simultaneous adjustments in both aids, that is, if you adjust one hearing aid, the other device will automatically adjust at the same time, to maintain balance of sound.
Data Logging and Data Learning. Data logging records how you are wearing your hearing aids (length of time, what types of listening environments you’ve been in and how you’ve been adjusting your hearing aids) so that your hearing specialist can ensure that the hearing aid is working well for you. If you’re making consistent changes to the volume, data learning will apply your preferences over time.
Wind noise reduction. A limitation of directional microphones is that they can be more sensitive to wind noise, so wind noise reduction is available to help reduce the annoying sound made by wind blowing over the microphones.
Fully automatic/environmentally adaptive. This works as part of the automatic program in hearing aids, and means that the hearing aid can automatically adjust its settings (for example microphone directionality, noise reduction, feedback management) to optimise hearing in different listening situations.
As you can see, there are many features available in hearing aids. Researching your options can help prepare you to make a more informed decision, but this can never replace a face-to-face discussion with a qualified hearing specialist, who has the training and expertise to recommend the most suitable option for your circumstances. It’s not vital to understand EVERY feature in the hearing aids you choose, but it’s important to understand which features make it the most suitable for you.
The most important aspect of hearing aid selection is finding a device that will work for you not only in quiet, but also in noise. This does not always mean the most expensive hearing aid however. The best way to determine your ideal hearing solution is to undergo Value Hearing’s assessment designed to do exactly this. This assessment has saved some people in excess of $8000 over recommendations made elsewhere, while still delivering optimally improved hearing.