I sometimes wonder how audiologists can sell hearing aids they have never tried. I realize not every audiologist can be hard of hearing or deaf, but because most aren’t, I wonder how it’s possible for them to know what we hear when we put on hearing aids or to understand our feelings about feedback and sharp sound. I wonder if they realize what an important step self-disclosure is in navigating the minefield of accommodations. I wonder if they realize how proud we feel once we’ve finally embraced our deaf selves?
Lately, I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of the Oticon Epoq RITE (receiver in the ear) against the Phonak Naida. I already read all the materials I could find on both aids before making the appointment with my audiologist. The Epoq has a blue tooth streamer and some extra equipment for watching TV, but nothing for conversing with people at parties or the office. It offers open fit, even for profoundly deaf– but with mixed results I‘ve heard. Epoq also coordinates sound between instruments in each ear wirelessly, so that they automatically detect direction of sound. Naida, on the other hand can come with the super-duper Phonak FM — which is admittedly pricey but everyone I know who owns one of these babies loves it. Naida has the frequency transposition. People with profound ski slope hearing loss and dead zones like mine have been raving about Naida because they’re able to hear sounds they haven’t heard in years– like the s sound. Never before has so much technology been packed into a high end aid. Never before have I even considered shelling out the kind of money I will be in the next few weeks.
Open fit sure seems like a dream come true. I hate that plugged up feeling of having a huge ear mold in my ear, especially during the hot summer. They’re sweaty and oh so itchy. Supposedly this aid is made for people with up to a 110 db hearing loss.
Even so, I’m having a hard time believing I can get a good fit. I’m concerned about feedback. I have one touchy ear canal that always feeds back no matter what. I already know someone with a similar audiogram to mine who had to trade her open fit Epoq in for a regular ear mold on that side because it didn’t work well for her. She claims she’s happy with the sound quality now though. She can hear voices. But her hearing loss isn‘t progressive like mine. Looking at the ‘best fit audiogram, I’m right on the lower edge of not benefiting from this aid– the lower edge being 110 dbs. If I lose more hearing (which I will), the Epoq will not provide enough power. At $6000.00, that’s a pretty big gamble.
“Why should I get these?” I ask my audiologist. “How does the sound quality compare to the Naida?”
“Oh– these are GREAT!” he assures me. “Everyone loves them. You’ll hear better and they look great too, because of the open fit! They‘re practically invisible!”
For the third time, I remind him that I’m less concerned about looks than how well I can hear. If I can’t hear well with them, it won’t ‘look’ that great no matter how ‘invisible’ the aids are. I must defend my audiologist here though. I realize I am probably one of the rare patients who has been wearing hearing aids since I was young. MOST of his patients probably DO want their hearing aids to be as invisible as possible. In the past week, two people (over fifty) have confided to me that they know they need hearing aids, but just cant’ get past the old age stigma. Excuse me? Try wearing them at 20!
But back to my audi– “We’ve got an intern working with us this summer.” he says. “He’s from Gallaudet. You know Gallaudet?”
“I’ll bring him in. You can ask what he thinks. He wears Phonaks.”
I notice the handsome young man wearing big metalic, awesome looking aids with obvious thick plastic tubing. His aids are obvious, sleek, and evidently very effective because he seems to have no trouble understanding me. After introductions are made, he looks over my audiogram, then asks, “Is your hearing loss progressive?”
“You might want the Phonaks, then. They have more power.”
“What’s the biggest drawback to these Epoqs?” I ask.
“Feedback,” he says.
Just as I thought.
I have not met very many deaf audiologists in my life, but this guy knows his stuff. He has actually worn the aids he’s selling. He understands feedback. His own aids are clearly visible and he apparently doesn’t care. HE GETS IT. I like that very much.