When speaking about hearing loss, it’s natural for the conversation to lead directly into the various hearing aid options. Of course, this is often the case, because hearing aids are the best treatment option for more than 90% of people with hearing loss.
While the best treatment option, the type of hearing aid you choose or its features are not the most important aspect that will determine your success. The factor that is the most imperative to your success with hearing aids is actually only considered in about 30% of hearing aid clinics.
The reason most of us believe the technology or features of a hearing aid are the most important factor for success all stems from the manufacturers. The job of a hearing aid manufacturer is to develop technology that improves your ability to hear when you have a hearing loss. It is also their job to then market this technology to the dispensers and audiologists who offer these hearing aids to their patients.
Because manufacturers emphasize the importance of the technology to the dispensers, the dispensers emphasize its importance to their patients. Patients then consume this information and the perception that hearing aids are the most important factor in hearing success is developed.
I’m not saying hearing aid technology is not important, because it is. It’s just not anywhere near the most important.
The greatest determining factor of your success and satisfaction with hearing aids is how well the hearing aids are programmed to your unique hearing loss prescription. The only way to accurately measure and program your hearing aids is to undergo real ear measures during your fitting appointment.
Unfortunately, only 30% of hearing aid dispensers and audiologists use real ear measures in their fittings. Without these measurements, dispensers are simply programming hearing aids based on estimates given by the manufacturer. Research has found that these estimates do not amplify sounds in a way to meet your hearing loss prescription.
Shockingly, other research has determined that an old analog hearing aid fit using real ear measures actually performs better in background noise than a modern digital aid that is fit not using real ear measures.
Real ear measures are simple tests in which a patient sits in front of a small speaker that will play sounds, with her hearing aids in. The audiologist uses what’s called a probe microphone tube. Both are inserted into the patient’s ears.
When the speaker plays sounds, the microphone of the hearing aid will pick up the sounds and amplify them based on the manufacturer’s estimates. The probe microphone tube will pick up that amplified sound and transmit it in relation to her prescription on the audiologist’s computer screen.
Most of the time, the manufacturer’s estimates are relatively similar to the patient’s prescription – however, with noticeable differences. When the audiologist sees these differences, he is able to make tiny adjustments to the hearing aid settings and run the test again. The whole process is repeated over and over again until the amplified sounds from the hearing aids are a perfect or near-perfect match to the patient’s prescription. These adjustments make a huge difference in how well hearing aids will work for a patient and how satisfied she will feel with them.
Using real ear measures is not just one best practice that audiologists should use – it is the most important one. Real ear measures should be the cornerstone of a hearing aid dispenser’s practice. When scheduling an appointment, it is important to ask if real ear measures are being used, and if not, it might be a good idea to find yourself a new clinic.
Dr. Cliff Olson, founder of Applied Hearing Solutions in Anthem Arizona, discusses Real Ear Measures (REM) which is the one thing that is more important than the hearing aids you wear. Real Ear Measures, or Real Ear Verification, is the only way to ensure your hearing aids are fit appropriately. Does your hearing care professional do them?