High-tech hearing aid accessories and features: Are they worth it?

Once a chunky piece of hardware, hearing aids today are tiny high-tech computers that arguably even improve upon the natural ear with new functions and connectivity. But not every feature that hearing aid manufacturers offer you will make your life better.

People used to think hearing aids were big, clunky and unattractive and in the past, there was some truth to this.

Now, though, they are tidy little buttons that can tuck into your ear and are pretty much just as amazing as mini-computers.

Your standard, modern hearing aid comes equipped with at least three hearing programmes, four channels, digital technology and noise and feedback suppression.

In some places, depending on the local health insurance arrangements, you may have to pay for some additional accessories that add convenience, comfort or aesthetics.

We checked out several to figure out what is worthwhile and what you can do without, despite what the ads may promise.

They can set and change your hearing aid’s programmes and volume levels. “This is convenient if the person concerned has, for example, limited fine motor skills due to gout or arthrosis,” says Marianne Frickel, who chairs the German association of hearing aid acousticians.

ENT doctor Bernhard Junge-Huelsing says remote controls are a good investment for hearing aid users up to 75 years of age, especially if they have to attend meetings or follow lectures.

Here, producers have been busy, with Junge-Huelsing comparing the evolution of hearing aids to the steps between the dial phone and the iPhone 12.

A big part of that is miniaturization: “Almost all models are discreet in terms of their shape, and are comfy to wear.” Some are even smaller than a 2-cent coin.

So is it worth getting a custom-made in-the-ear (ITE) hearing system which is particularly inconspicuous? That’s up to you. Junge-Huelsing says basically, you get more technology for the same money with behind-the-ear (BTE) systems than with ITEs.

Some hearing systems can be connected and controlled via Bluetooth with the smartphone or TV, which makes it even easier to understand the information and words even if there’s a lot of ambient noise, says Frickel.

Junge-Huelsing calls this a “useful addition” as it allows music, TV sets or even conference audio to be transmitted directly to the hearing aid.

Most hearing aids today are digital and transmit sound partly in real time. “In order to be able to adjust to different hearing situations, every system has at least three programmes,” says Frickel. High-end devices also automatically recognise the sound situation. Junge-Huelsing says this function is recommended for all hearing aids.

The sound of a hearing aid is adjusted to the subjective hearing sensation of the person concerned, says Frickel. So it’s not really an extra.

Basically, he recommends sticking to one particular brand as companies’ hearing aids differ in sound nuances. “One sounds exaggerated like in the bathroom, the other like in the living room.”

That being said, using a hearing aid at all may well improve the quality of your listening experiences, even if you don’t think you’ve lost that much of your hearing.

“Last year, at the age of 56, I noticed a slight sensorineural hearing loss with 4% hearing loss on both sides,” says Junge-Huelsing.

“That’s when I borrowed my brother’s hearing aid. He has 35% hearing loss on both sides. I was able to enjoy a Berlin Philharmonic concert even better that way.”

You can get cleaning kits to take care of your hearing aid. As the microphone inlets are only a few tenths of a millimetre in size, they can easily become clogged with dirt, Frickel says. You can also get drying boxes for storage after wearing.

Junge-Huelsing recommends both, calling them “indispensable tools”. You’ll need guidance in terms of how to use them by the hearing care professional, however.

These help keep your hearing aid in place with an extra clip behind your ear to make sure it doesn’t become dislodged when you are wearing a mask, say, or during sports. “They can actually be pretty helpful,” says Junge-Huelsing.

Hearing instruments with a T-coil can connect to an induction loop, say in museum or church for example, to deliver acoustic signals without interference, regardless of the distance or the acoustics in the room. However, a T-coil needs space, so there are limits to how far this can be reduced in size, Frickel says.

Junge-Huelsing says inductive hearing systems could be useful for higher-grade hearing impairments and mild peripheral hearing disorders that occur in combination with auditory processing disorders or central auditory perception and processing disorders (AVWS).

Some hearing instruments can be used as hands-free devices when you’re driving, and can also play instructions from your navigation system can be played. “This considerably increases safety when driving,” says Junge-Huelsing. – dpa