Should You Insure Your Hearing Aids?

You undoubtedly have insurance for your important valuables. So should you get insurance for your precious hearing aid? The answer is yes, but not right away.

New hearing aids come with a warranty from the manufacturer. The length of the warranty, usually up to three years, is based on the device’s level of technology, according to Terrence Williams, assistant director of the Berelson Hearing Technology Center at the nonprofit Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) in New York.


When you purchase your hearing aid, be sure to find out the length of the warranty. It should cover both replacement and repair. Replacement includes loss, but this is a one-time offer. Once the manufacturer replaces a lost hearing aid, the warranty is no longer in effect.

When the warranty runs out, you’ll probably want to buy insurance. Coverage cost is based on the level of technology of your hearing aid as well as its age, says Williams. For a higher-end device, the price averages about $300 a year (per aid). That may seem expensive, but with the average cost of a hearing aid about $2,300, according to thePresident’s Commission on Science and Technology, it’s probably a wise investment. You can usually insure for replacement or repair, or both.

CHC works with three providers of hearing aid insurance: Ear Service Corporation (ESCO), Midwest Hearing Industries, and Starkey Hearing Technologies. Starkey works with the hearing-aid provider, not directly with the consumer. Ear Service and Midwest offer comprehensive coverage for all types of hearing aids and will replace a lost or damaged hearing aid with the same model. If the model has been discontinued, they’ll offer a comparable model. Starkey, which also manufactures hearing aids, will cover all manufacturers’ products, but it will replace a lost or damaged hearing aid with a Starkey device.

Before you buy this extra coverage, check with your homeowner’s or renter’s policy to see if your hearing aids are covered and what your deductible is. If you’ve chosen a high deductible to save on premiums, the deductible may be far more than the cost of the hearing aid.

The best thing, of course, is not to lose your hearing aid in the first place. Here are a few hints for holding onto that valuable object:

  • Before bed, put it in a Dri-Aid or other dehumidifier to get rid of excess moisture and keep it secure during the night.
  • Never put it on the table or your plate at a restaurant, as some people do when the room gets too loud. One of the titles I considered for my book Shouting Won’t Help was The Man Who Ate His Hearing Aid, based on a friend’s experience. Enough said.
  • Carry a small case for your hearing aid in your purse or in a secure pocket where it won’t get lost or damaged.
  • Never leave the hearing aid on the dresser or a bedside table at night. It can get accidentally knocked off or, worse, swallowed by a pet. In that case, you’d not only be replacing the hearing aid, you’d also be stuck with a veterinarian’s bill.
  • If you have upgraded to a new hearing aid, be sure to keep the old one to use in case the new one gets lost.

This post first appeared on AARP: Conditions and Treatments.

Scare Tactics: Benefit or Backfire?

Like many others, I’ve written repeatedly about the negative health consequences of hearing loss. These include a greater risk of falls, depression and isolation, and earlier and more severe cognitive decline. A recent study even linked hearing loss to earlier death.

I write about these in part because they are news, the results of solid epidemiological studies. But I also write about them to encourage people to treat their hearing loss.

It’s a way of getting people to face facts. It’s also scare tactic.

Is it working? Hearing aid sales seem to be on the rise , but overall numbers remain low, and some say stressing the scary consequences of untreated hearing loss is not the best tactic.

Recently, Julie Olson, a past president of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), addressed this question in comments to the Ida Institute, a think tank on issues about hearing loss. These recent studies on dementia, falling and now death, she wrote, “add to the stigma problem. They frighten people into further denial of the problem and prevent many from seeking help.”

She wishes there were more emphasis on the “success stories” of how hearing devices improved a person’s life.

I wish that I could say definitively that treating hearing loss will help offset or mitigate cognitive decline and falls, but more research is needed.

A French study last year found a correlation between the use of hearing aids and reduced cognitive decline. An earlier French study found a reversal of cognitive decline in people with cochlear implants who also received intensive rehabilitative therapy. But these were relatively small studies. Further research — such as a proposed large study to be led by hearing expert Frank Lin, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University — may tell us more.

Common sense tells us that treating hearing loss will encourage socialization and thus help fend off depression and isolation. Depression and isolation are known risk factors for cognitive decline. It also makes sense that hearing more easily and clearly (with hearing aids) will ease the cognitive load that comes with expending disproportionate effort to hear. As for balance, better hearing may allow us to take in our surroundings more easily and avoid falling. Physical fitness and balance training may help, too.

Jan Blustein, M.D., professor of health policy and medicine at New York University, and a fellow board member of HLAA, said to me, “As a person with hearing loss, I understand concerns about stigma.” But, she added, “It’s complicated. Much of the evidence on hearing loss and cognitive decline is correlational — so we don’t know whether the hearing loss causes the problem [falls, hospitalizations, faster cognitive decline], or whether other factors are at play. We’re working toward better knowledge about the consequences of treated versus untreated hearing loss.”

Whether treating loss helps offset these conditions is the big question, of course. But there are much better and more immediate reasons to treat your hearing loss.

I wear a hearing aid not because I’m worried about possible dementia in the future but so I can hear better right now.

I wear a hearing aid so that I can understand what people say to me, so that I can hear birds chirping and leaves rustling, so that I can ask for directions and understand the answer.

I also wear a hearing aid so that I can continue to be an active, involved member of my family, my social groups, the world.

If wearing a hearing aid helps offset dementia, all the better. But I wear one for the benefits I get right now, every day.


Gobsmacked by Rudeness. Frustrated by Technology.

Hearing loss is an invisible disability. There’s no white cane or wheelchair to tip off others to your condition. Most people would not yell at someone in a wheelchair for blocking the aisle in a supermarket, or at a blind person for accidentally stepping in front of them. But every once in a while, I am gobsmacked by rudeness from people who think I’m deliberately trying to annoy them when I’m only trying to hear better.

Senior couple watching moviesThe latest happened during my vacation in Florida in a town with many older people. The independent cinema has captioning equipment for those with hearing loss, which it bought several years ago.

Because it was a chilly day, I decided to go see a movie, The Big Short. Unfortunately, the captioning equipment was not available. Apparently a part was missing. The manager instead offered me  headphones, which I decided to try.

About 15 minutes into the movie, the man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said furiously, “Take those things off!”

I guess they were too loud, but how am I, a deaf person, supposed to know that? I left the theater, returned the headphones and started to walk out the door. But then I turned back into the theater, tapped the man on the shoulder and said very loudly, “Those are headphones to help me hear. I’m deaf.”

I hope he was humiliated, because I certainly was.

The rudeness, in retrospect, was understandable. It’s the technology that infuriates me. Why do I have to put on heavy, ill-fitting headphones that not only don’t work for me, but can distract people around me? It’s like installing a wheelchair ramp that not only doesn’t get you where you need to go, but blocks the stairs for everyone else.

Captions are better, and the deaf and hard of hearing have been lobbying for them for years. But what the industry has given us is a clunky gooseneck screen that you carry to your seat and fit into the cup holder. Some chains also offer special closed-captioning eyeglasses, which are less intrusive, but if you wear glasses normally the closed-captioning ones have to fit over those. (Open captioning, which displays dialogue on the bottom of the movie screen for all audiences to see, is less common than closed captioning, and also less popular with hearing moviegoers.)

Digital film technology allows closed captions to be an intrinsic part of a movie, and they can be sent automatically to the devices I described above. But why can’t the captions go directly to my smartphone instead? My phone can do just about everything else — streamed captions should be a cinch.

This is an issue on the stage as well. Marlee Matlin, the first deaf actor to receive an Academy Award, has advocated for captioning for years. In fact, you can tweet, email or post to Facebook your support for this letter from Matlin asking for captions and signing to be available on request at any Broadway performance.

One last comment about the movie The Big Short: Don’t try it if you rely on reading lips. We all know people who are difficult to speech read: thin lips, blank facial expression, yelling into their cellphones, big mustaches, shouting over other people. Guess what? They’re all in this movie.

Hearables, Earables and Earcles: Looking Ahead to 2016

I predict good things for people with hearing loss in 2016, especially in the field of technology, where new kinds of devices to improve hearing are booming.

In fact, as the Washington Post recently noted, the hearing device market is in the midst of a “profound disruption” — from traditional hearing aids to lower-priced, nonprescription devices — that is making it easier and cheaper for people with hearing loss to get help.

Modern Hearing Aids

 — Istock

But first I want to note a surprising trend: The U.S. private hearing aid market grew 9 percent last year, despite the grumbling about prices — more than $2,300 is the average price for a hearing aid — and a shortage of audiologists.

Some of the uptick in hearing aid sales may be due to two new(ish) hearing aids, the Halo by Starkey Hearing Technologies and the ReSound LiNX2, both of which work with an iPhone or other i-device to allow precise manual tuning to a particular environment and then saving that setting so you can automatically go back to the same program the next time you’re in that space. The cost is about $3000 per aid, depending on where you buy them.

Another potential piece of good news in the traditional hearing aid market is the expected entry of tech giant Samsung, which has applied for a trademark registration for a device it calls the Earcle. Six big manufacturers dominate the hearing aid market. The entry of one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world may help consumers by bringing down prices.

But the really big news is in PSAPs, or Personal Sound Amplification Products. These devices, which cost around $300 to $350, directly amplify sound into the ear. Because they are marketed as consumer electronics, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and don’t require a prescription. Good products already exist, including the $300 Soundhawk Smart Listening System, which debuted in December 2014. The Wall Street Journal called it “an ear wearable.” The Soundhawk looks like a geeky Bluetooth earpiece.

There may be more devices like this to come. Think of the futuristic Spike Jonze movie Her, which made an in-the-ear talking computer seem like the next best thing. “The ear is the new wrist,” tech guru Nick Hunn wrote, taking credit for coining the term “hearable.” He predicts that the wristband — like Fitbit — has already seen its day. Soon everything will be in the ear.

Steven Brown, writing for, explains why these “activity trackers” will move to the ear and become hearing devices as well as fitness monitors: “Wearables aren’t sticking because consumers are not willing to alter their behavior to accommodate the product.” He suggests that consumers are already accustomed to wearing something in the ear — earbuds, hearing aids, Bluetooth devices, earplugs. Why not combine fitness tracking with music listening — and add a hearing component as well? And someday even a talking computer.

All of these devices are technically PSAPs, which received a boost in October when the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology endorsed PSAPs as an alternative to more expensive hearing aids for people with normal age-related hearing loss and recommended that the FDA allow them to be advertised as devices to correct hearing. This month, the FDA announced that it would reconsider its guidelines on PSAPs.

But not every new hearing device is designed for the ear. Belgian designer Bruno Vereecke has created a lamp to help people with hearing loss hear better around the dining table. Vereecke’s wife and son both have hearing loss, and he wanted something that would allow his family members to hear each other better. The result is a hanging lamp that is designed to absorb noise, making it easier to hear speech. Testers reported a 15 percent increase in the sounds they could hear. The lamp can also be customized for an individual’s particular hearing loss.

My favorite new idea is one shown at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas: the DiamondZ True Wireless Bluetooth headphone made by Monster Inc. It looks like a 40-carat amethyst nestled into the ear. The DiamondZ is not intended to correct hearing — at least for now it’s only a Bluetooth device. But hearing device manufacturers, listen up! Give us jewels to wear in our ears and hearing aid sales should go through the roof.

First published on AARP Health, January 14, 2016

Traveling with Chargers (and Hearing Aids)


I travel a lot, and I know all the problems — big and small — that can occur when you need to bring myriad devices to help you hear. From annoyances like forgetting to pack backup batteries to major challenges like losing a crucial component of a cochlear implant when it falls off in parking garage and crucial parts disappear, I’ve learned to make a detailed checklist of the things I need to pack.Chargers

So if you’re one of the millions of Americans who wear hearing aids, or those who have a cochlear implant, here is some hard-earned travel advice for that upcoming trip.

Keep all your hearing equipment in one bag, a carry-on if you’re flying. Checked bags can be lost. All your hearing stuff, as well as medications and irreplaceable valuables, should also go in your carry-on. The hearing equipment, plus chargers, can be bulky and heavy, so you might want to consider a backpack or a rolling carry-on. I put each charger in a separate zipper baggie to prevent the wires from tangling. I also put the devices themselves in baggies, in case something spills in my bag.

Think spares and extras. If you wear a hearing aid, bring along a backup if you have one (an older hearing aid will do). Include batteries, wax guards, and the brush and wire you use for cleaning the hearing aid.

Bring backup for your cochlear implant. You’ll need a spare (again, an older model will suffice), and spares for each of the many components: the ear hook, the T-mic, the cable, and the headpiece. If you lose any one of these, they can not be easily replaced at the local drugstore. You have to notify the manufacturer, who will send a replacement, but it could take days to get it, especially over a weekend or holiday.

Cochlear implants use rechargeable batteries, so don’t forget the charger and, of course, batteries (at least three). You also should have a dehumidifier storage case for the implant, and a small travel carrying case that you can pop the implant into if you find yourself in a very humid place or caught in the rain.

Sweat is not good for hearing aids, so the carrying case may be handy on the tennis court or golf course as well. And of course you’ll need to take the c.i. off when swimming, unless it’s one of the waterproof models.


Going to the beach? Sand is lethal to hearing aids, so make sure they’re either covered by a hat or left at home. Saltwater will also destroy them.

Bring your assistive listening devices (ALDs). An FM system includes a transmitter and receiver, and a charger for each. You can’t use any one of these four components without the other three, so make sure you have the whole set. This is also true for the increasingly popular Roger Pen (transmitter, receiver, and two chargers).

Pack a Bluetooth (I use the ComPilot) to pair with your cell phone. If you usually use a captioned phone at home, you want to be sure your cell phone is as hearing friendly as possible while you are away. This includes remembering to switch on your telecoil before you use the phone. A ComPilot will also allow you to hear recorded books or music on your smart phone. Each hearing aid manufacturer has its own branded Bluetooth transceivers (receiver and transmitter in one piece). Don’t forget the charger!

A power strip! You’ll need it for all those chargers. It also will come in handy for charging your phone, tablet, e-reader and laptop. (The photo is of my bedside table on an overseas trip.)

Going abroad? Bring an adapter. You’ll need it to plug in the power strip to recharge your hearing devices and other electronics. And make sure it’s the correct one for the country you’re visiting. If you forget to bring one, hotels often can lend lend you one. You can also buy them in airports.

Wear your hearing aid and cochlear implant. That’s the easiest way not to leave them behind. Neither device will set off alarms at airport security, and both will allow you to hear questions from the TSA agent and possibly even announcements at the departure gate. Airports are noisy, however, so don’t expect to be able to hear flight announcements. Ask the gate attendant to tell you when your zone is boarding (you’ll probably be offered pre-boarding). During the flight, your own over-the-ear headphones will allow you to hear the in-flight entertainment without having to take off your hearing aid, as you would with the airlines’ free headphones.

Make a checklist. List everything you need — devices, chargers, batteries, chargers, cleaning equipment and instruction manuals — and then check off the list as you pack. It not only will reduce stress, but it also will reduce the chance that you leave something important behind.

Don’t forget your sense of humor! As you can see, there’s ample opportunity for things to go awry.

Hearing Loss? Think Opportunity.

“Hearing loss is such an adventure,” a new acquaintance wrote to me not long ago.

This is one comment I’d never heard before.

Wow, I thought, she really has reached that elusive state of acceptance. Many people talk about the hearing loss “journey,” from denial to anger to bargaining to depression to acceptance.

But an adventure. That suggests exciting new opportunities and challenges.

My friend had had a severe drop in her hearing in her 30’s. “Many doors I had intended to open and travel through closed.” That happens to people with severe or sudden hearing loss. Career pathways can be blocked. If you always wanted to be a commercial airline pilot, that’s probably not going to happen. But most career and social obstacles simply have to be navigated in a more strategic way.

My friend also talked about the doors that opened because of her hearing loss. She became an active member of the Hearing Loss Association of America, HLAA (then called SHHH – Self Help for the Hard of Hearing). She met many new people, she became involved in advocacy to effect change, to ensure that the principles embodied in the American With Disabilities Act applied to people with hearing loss as well as to those with more obvious disabilities.

She traveled as part of her advocacy work, she educated people and shared information. She navigated the shoals of technology, she encountered stigma and by example helped defeat it. And of course she struggled to hear.

“To be honest,” she wrote, “my adventures with hearing loss have not all been enjoyable, however they have challenged me to learn things I would never have been interested in otherwise.”

In this holiday season, I want to celebrate the benefits that can come with disability, the intense satisfaction of overcoming obstacles, the sense of achievement that comes with learning about new technology, the gratification of helping to effect change for the good.

The hearing loss journey is an ongoing one. Hearing may continue to deteriorate but opportunities and technology continue to improve. The challenge to push yourself to try one more new device, to venture out to one more event, can sometimes seem overwhelming. But from now on, I’m going to think of it as an adventure.

One Test Your Doctor Probably Isn’t Doing

Should hearing screenings be a part of your routine physical exam?

First posted on: AARP Health, December 14, 2015.

African American doctor talking to patient in office

— Getty Images

THINK BACK to the last time you had a physical. Did the doctor ask you anything about your hearing?

The answer is probably no. A 2011 analysis of studies on the effectiveness of hearing screening found that almost two-thirds of primary care physicians, including geriatricians, do not include a hearing screening in an annual physical.

Before you blame your doctor, you need to know that a 2012 report by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of federally appointed medical advisers, found insufficient evidence to recommend hearing loss screening for older adults. The task force found too few studies “to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for hearing loss in asymptomatic adults aged 50 year or older,” even though the panel acknowledged that “hearing loss can affect social functioning and quality of life.”

Wha’? This same report found that there was no risk in screening, that a simple, cost-free hearing test — like rubbing fingers together six inches behind the patient, or a whisper test at two feet -— was effective, and that the rate of hearing aid use went up in patients who were screened by their primary care physician.

The task force also noted that “given the noninvasive nature of both screening and associated diagnostic evaluation, these harms are probably small to none” and that there is adequate evidence showing that “the harms of treatment of hearing loss in older adults are small to none.”

Despite this, the task force still could not recommend that older adults be regularly screened unless they complain of hearing problems.

The negative effects of untreated hearing loss have been well documented: a greater risk of falls in the elderly, depression and isolation, cognitive decline. In a statement she made in response to the task force report, Margaret Wallhagen, director of the John A. Hartford Center of Gerontological Nursing Excellence at the UC San Francisco School of Nursing, was outspoken in her frustration with the report: “Unfortunately, what that did was reconfirm what’s already been going on — which is no screening. That’s the last thing we needed.”

Wallhagen has been researching the effects of hearing loss on seniors for years. “Screening should be standard practice,” she said. In a report to the Institute of Medicine this year, Wallhagen pointed out some additional costs to society of untreated hearing loss: The loss in income for people with untreated hearing loss due to underemployment is estimated at $176 billion annually. Further, the use of hearing aids was shown to reduce the risk of income loss by 90 to 100 percent for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77 percent for those with severe to moderate hearing loss.

Other studies have found that the primary care physician can play an important role in the identification and treatment of hearing loss.

A 2000 study found that 63 percent of people listed their primary care physician as the most important source of information about where to go for hearing health care services. The study also found that people with hearing loss are eight times more likely to be positively inclined to purchase a hearing aid if their physician recommends one.

This year, the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) strongly recommended hearing screening in all adults during routine physicals, as well as during the “Welcome to Medicare” assessment and annual Medicare risk assessments.

For now, you may have to ask your doctor for a hearing screening. But patients shouldn’t have to broach the subject. Many older people are unaware of the gradual encroachment of hearing loss and wouldn’t think to ask for a screening.

A screening should be a standard part of any annual physical, especially for those over 65. If the screening shows a problem, the doctor should refer the patient to a hearing professional.

It’s simple: Hearing aids work.