Friday, June 10, 2016

How much to pay for bionic hearing?

I realised half-way through that I've written this post for myself, to help me sort out my thoughts, so please feel free to ignore it! Although if you have any thoughts I'd be very happy to hear them.

My hearing aids just aren't good enough and the NHS can't do any better for me, apparently.

My hearing is good for deep sounds but drops sharply for higher pitched sounds, especially in my right ear which suffered a disastrous hearing loss five years ago. The sample audiogram above gives you some idea, the differences between that and my own audiogram are that I have normal hearing in both ears up to 1,000 Hz, and that my right ear drops off more precipitously than on this graph.

The area between 2,000 - 4,000 Hz is the most important for understanding speech and this is the area where I have a rapid drop in hearing.

Digital hearing aids work by dividing the sound into chunks and turning them up individually. The level of fine tuning possible depends on the number of these chunks (called "channels"). A single channel would turn everything up and down; two channels would give you bass and treble.

Eight channels, which is what I have, gives you some ability to turn up the higher sounds selectively but the channels work across the whole frequency range, including the sounds that I don't need to be enhanced at all, so the fine tuning for speech isn't particularly fine. That means that I have to have some sounds too quiet because their neighbouring sounds would be too loud if that channel was turned up any more.

Sounds that you can barely hear take longer for your brain to process by about a second. This means you need people to speak more slowly. There are so many situations where I'm struggling.
  • on the phone
  • with children
  • with any background noise
  • anyone not facing me
  • anyone on my right side
  • most tv programs
  • can't wear headphones
The speaker for my aids is behind the ear, and the sounds travels by tube to my ear. This isn't great for feedback. It means that I can't have my right hearing aid as loud as I need even without the complications of the different channels. Private hearing aids can have the speaker in the ear.

I am looking at private hearing aids with 12, 16, and 20 channels. They are expensive. I mean really, very expensive. Like, six or seven bicycles, or a couple of foreign holidays.

The problem is that you're not just paying for a fantastic piece of kit but you're also paying for the service you get over the next three or four years. Which is bloody good service, I have to say, if the initial consultation is anything to go by.

The dearest aids cost 30% more than the cheaper ones. (Not the cheapest. They don't have enough channels to make a real difference to me.) I'm not sure how to decide what level I need.

At least I get over 60 days to try them out and if they don't help I can return them. I'd like to think I wouldn't need to. It would be so nice to hear properly again.
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