I answered a survey about hearing loss today. It was sent to my email inbox by a hearing loss association. I'm pretty sure it was in response to the bill proposed in Washington that will make over-the-counter hearing aids available to anyone who wants them -- those without a doctor's prescription, diagnosis, audiogram, or exam.
While I know there are a great many people in the world with undiagnosed hearing loss -- and many with diagnosed hearing loss who simply cannot afford a hearing aid -- who could benefit from the expected lower cost of over-the-counter hearing aids, I have mixed feelings as to whether this policy is a good idea or not. Selecting, wearing, and benefitting from a hearing aid is complex. Much different than purchasing reading glasses -- a simplistic analogy of the impetus behind the OTC hearing aid movement.
In the five years since I lost my hearing, I've learned a great deal about hearing loss and hearing aids. They can be really great. And they can be really awful, too. Working through an audiologist is surely more beneficial than walking into a Walgreens and selecting a factory pre-programmed hearing aid that may or may not fit comfortably, amplify sounds appropriately, or achieve desirable results.
Five years is a long time to learn about optimizing programs and settings, choosing generic canal tips or custom ear molds, selecting a receiver-in-the-ear vs. behind-the-ear model, consideration of T-coils and Bluetooth, finding and using compatible assistive listening devices, learning to care for and maintain your devices, seeking adjustments and reprogramming to meet ongoing hearing changes and needs...
Five years is a long time to learn that you get what you pay for. I've upgraded my hearing aids twice to improve the quality of hearing. My first "basic" pair was terrible, at best. Hardly worth using. I worry that these mass-produced hearing aids will be of such poor quality that people's experiences with them will discourage them from seeking audiological evaluations and more advanced devices when and if their hearing warrants it. And with the availability of these "cheaper" hearing aids, will insurance companies like mine discontinue coverage of more sophisticated devices necessary for those of us who have more profound hearing loss and send us to the corner drugstore for help, too?
Five years is a long time to work with an audiologist to maximize my hearing success through initial diagnosis, routine monitoring and adjustments, counseling, and guidance towards success. My audiologist can be credited with the majority of my success with my hearing devices. I am dependent on her expertise. I don't think a drugstore clerk could hold a candle to her.
It's far more complex than selecting a cute red or blue one to help you hear better. And like myself, I seriously doubt most people will have any idea about what hearing aids would be best for their unique hearing needs or how to use them properly without an exam and diagnosis.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out.