A Cheaper Al­ter­na­tive to Hear­ing Aids?

De­vices per­formed al­most as well and are much cheaper, but they aren't reg­u­lated, re­searchers note

The Jewish Voice - - HEALTH - By: Randy Dotinga

Ahand­ful of over-the­counter "per­sonal sound am­pli­fi­ca­tion prod­ucts" fared as well as an ex­pen­sive hear­ing aid in help­ing peo­ple pick up more words in con­ver­sa­tion, re­searchers re­port.

While the study took place in a sound booth, "in this con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment, some of these de­vices helped peo­ple with mild to mod­er­ate hear­ing loss as well as a hear­ing aid," said study au­thor Ni­cholas Reed. He is an au­di­ol­o­gist at Johns Hop­kins School of Medicine, in Bal­ti­more.

An es­ti­mated 16 per­cent of Amer­i­cans have trou­ble hear­ing, and the U.S. Na­tional In­sti­tute on Deaf­ness and Other Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Dis­or­ders es­ti­mates that al­most 30 mil­lion peo­ple could ben­e­fit from hear­ing aids.

But hear­ing aids can cost thou­sands of dol­lars, and Medi­care doesn't cover them, the re­searchers noted.

"Hear­ing aids are reg­u­lated med­i­cal de­vices and should all be able to aid some­one with hear­ing loss," Reed said. "While not all hear­ing aids are the same, they should all be able to meet this min­i­mum re­quire­ment of mak­ing sound louder at ap­pro­pri­ate fre­quen­cies and with min­i­mal dis­tor­tion."

In con­trast, per­sonal sound am­pli­fi­ca­tion prod­ucts, avail­able at stores and on­line, aren't reg­u­lated and can't be mar­keted as hear­ing aids. The U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion says they're sup­posed to be used by peo­ple with­out hear­ing prob­lems to help them hear dis­tant sounds. The de­vices fit in or around the ear and make use of Blue­tooth tech­nol­ogy.

Peo­ple do use the de­vices as hear­ing aids, how­ever, said Todd Rick­etts, vice chair of grad­u­ate stud­ies with the depart­ment of hear­ing and speech sciences at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Nashville. But these prod­ucts tend to be less tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced than hear­ing aids, although some of­fer ad­vanced fea­tures.

Should you go out and buy one of the am­pli­fi­ca­tion de­vices in­stead of get­ting a hear­ing aid from a hear­ing spe­cial­ist? Some au­di­ol­o­gists will refuse to fit you for one, and the U.S. gov­ern­ment doesn't consider them ap­pro­pri­ate for peo­ple with hear­ing loss.

For the study, re­searchers re­cruited 42 pa­tients at a univer­sity au­di­ol­ogy clinic who had mild to mod­er­ate hear­ing loss. Two-thirds were women, and their av­er­age age was 72.

In a sound booth, the par­tic­i­pants lis­tened to sen­tences with "speech bab­ble noise" in the back­ground. The par­tic­i­pants tried to un­der­stand what was said with­out any hear­ing as­sis­tance; while us­ing a hear­ing

aid (cost­ing $1,910); and while us­ing per­sonal sound am­pli­fi­ca­tion prod­ucts bought on­line and at a phar­macy (one was $30, and the oth­ers cost be­tween $270 and $350).

The re­searchers mea­sured the av­er­age ac­cu­racy -- the per­cent­age of the time that the par­tic­i­pants un­der­stood the sen­tences. It was 77 per­cent with­out a hear­ing aid, 88 per­cent with the hear­ing aid, and 81 to 87 per­cent with four of the am­pli­fi­ca­tion de­vices (Sound World So­lu­tions CS50+, Sound­hawk, Ety­motic Bean and Tweak Fo­cus).

"The re­sults sug­gest that the de­vices are tech­no­log­i­cally and ob­jec­tively ca­pa­ble of im­prov­ing speech un­der­stand­ing in per­sons with hear­ing loss," Reed said.

A fifth am­pli­fi­ca­tion de­vice, the $30 MSA 30X Sound Am­pli­fier, scored the worst, with an av­er­age ac­cu­racy level of 65 per­cent, the re­searchers re­ported. Reed said the de­vice caused dis­tor­tion.

The study was pub­lished in the July 4 is­sue of the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

A hand­ful of over-the-counter "per­sonal sound am­pli­fi­ca­tion prod­ucts" fared as well as an ex­pen­sive hear­ing aid in help­ing peo­ple pick up more words in con­ver­sa­tion, re­searchers re­port.

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