The Brain-Ear connection

The Brain-Ear connection

The topic of the brain-ear connection has been discussed for many years in the world of researchers, but what does it really mean and why should you care? By understanding how important this connection is, it changes everything you know about good hearing health and the importance of acting sooner than later.

In the past, it was thought that a hearing problem was only affecting the ability to hear the volume of sound. You could witness the hard of hearing making mistakes in understanding words correctly, and by raising your voice and repeating yourself a few times, eventually, the message was understood.

It seemed more of an annoyance having to repeat everything, than a real concerning problem. I have heard some people say, “They just have selective hearing.” Or, “they choose not to listen” and even dismiss the problem with “it’s normal for my age”.

Perception of hearing loss

Our perception of hearing loss and the degree of its difficulty has been misunderstood by people with normal hearing for many years. With research studying the effects of hearing loss and now understanding that hearing loss is much more complex than just needing sounds to be louder, we need to recognize and recommend action to be taken sooner than later.

What about the Brain-Ear connection?

The brain receives signals from the ears. The brain perceives, identifies, clarifies, compartmentalizes, and responds to what the ear is sending to it. When the brain begins to lose critical information from the ear, it can’t maintain the same processes. We cannot reason with lack of information. We cannot comprehend the information if the information is full of holes.

The brain, in its capacity to reason, begins to discard bits of information because it is incomplete and/or unimportant. For example, imagine someone with a hearing loss, and because there is damage to the ear the brain only receives perhaps 20% of the information. How can someone make an intelligent decision with all the misinformation; the mumbling voices and the garbled speech? How long before the brain says it’s not relevant and unimportant and discards it?

Effects of deterioration

After years of gradual deteriorated hearing loss, which seems normal for those who are experiencing it, and lack of stimulation, the brain tissue begins to shrink at a faster rate affecting cognitive abilities and further auditory decline. Numerous studies show how brain tissue shrinkage can influence Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, the risk of falling and other serious health issues, as well as social and economic influences. We hear in the brain, and when the ears no longer send the correct amount of stimulation, the brain suffers.

Hearing aids can help.

Improve your health, happiness, and wealth. Feel good about the conversations you have. Become engaged in all that life has to offer and know you are doing more than just hearing well again. You are maintaining better brain health as well!

To read more about the brain-ear connection, click here to go to our Medical Studies page.

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How hearing aids benefit us beyond better hearing

Hearing aid benefits

So how does a hearing aid work? Based on your hearing test, the specialist will program it to know which frequencies you hear well and which ones you struggle to hear. A hearing aid uses digital technology to listen to all sound in the listening environment. Then, using that programming it analyzes which frequencies it needs to adjust the amplification to meet your specific hearing ability. By doing this, the hearing aid is correcting and amplifying only the frequencies you need altered, as well as cleaning out distortion and background noises, so you start to hear sounds as close to natural hearing as possible again. Remarkable!

But how does hearing well improve our quality of life? We rely on our hearing to maintain our connection with the world. Hearing is an important part of how we communicate with the people in our lives. It helps us to regulate and orient ourselves in our environment. It acts as our early detection system for danger.

A positive impact on our emotional and social well-being are the most obvious improvements we experience when we take action to improve our hearing, but there are also financial benefits, safety benefits and medical benefits to taking action sooner, rather than waiting until the loss becomes severe.

Being able to hear well increases our level of self-esteem. It allows us to be more confident because we feel competent to make decisions and to participate in conversations. We trust that we understand what is being said to us and we are less intimidated and less concerned that people are talking about us because now we can hear what they are saying. We are even less frustrated and less angry because we feel included and valued. Hearing well improves our interpersonal relationships and that makes a big difference in our happiness.

Safety is a big concern associated with hearing loss. If we cannot hear a warning called out to us, or an alarm, we put ourselves at risk. If we cannot hear a loved one call for help or when they are in danger, we put them at risk. Treating our hearing loss with hearing aids means we have increased our safety and the safety of those in our care. Imagine how differently a situation will turn out if we can hear a fire alarm or a call for help.

Financially, taking action to correct our hearing loss can lead to higher earning power. While still in the working world, a hearing loss can lead to misinformation, misunderstanding instructions and making errors that can jeopardize our job or our chances for advancement. After we retire, hearing loss can affect our finances if we haven’t heard all of the information to make an informed decision about our money. These choices may be about investments or about the items we purchase. Having confidence in our hearing means we can be confident we have the correct information needed to make informed decisions about our finances.

There are so many benefits to hearing well. We all deserve to live a full and happy life, and hearing well is a big part of that.

Request a free hearing screening or Take our online hearing test

Why do the cost of hearing aids vary?

The cost of hearing aids – Did you know there are over 1,400 unique models of hearing aids available in Ontario? That’s a lot of hearing aids with many different features and technology levels.

Hearing aids are microcomputers. As with all computers, the speed of processing, size and capabilities related to your specific needs vary the cost. Some hearing aids come with one processor and some with two processors. They process an enormous amount of input information in less than a blink of an eye. Wearing the most advanced hearing aids is like wearing two computers for each ear that are wirelessly linked to acting like a supercomputer! They process input sounds in nanosecond speeds (in case you were wondering that is a millionth of a second), analyze them, and then reconfigure those sounds to transmit information that makes sense for your hearing ability through your ear’s mechanics to your brain.

Hearing loss is as unique as a fingerprint. This means that different hearing aids will benefit each individual differently. A Hearing Instrument Specialist’s task is to gather information to determine which product will provide the optimum benefit to their patient and then make a recommendation to the patient based on that information. In order to make the best recommendation, the Specialist must take the time to learn about the person – How do they spend their time? Who are the people they interact with? What are they hoping to gain by improving their hearing ability? They combine this information with the results of the hearing test to determine which technology level is the ideal level to achieve the patient’s hearing goals. Low-cost technology works well in a quiet one on one setting for most people, but being in a group of friends or family outings and meetings with background noise, changes everything. Higher, faster and greater processing will need to be considered for these noisier situations, which increase the product cost. Again, that’s why we have 1,400 different choices.

There is a lot of misconception about the cost of hearing aids. This seems particularly true in Ontario, where the hearing aid industry is regulated by the Ministry of Health as part of the Prescription Act. But the cost of the hearing aid device itself is only one portion of the final cost – like a prescription at the pharmacy. The truth is that each clinic charges the same manufacturer’s cost price for the same model of hearing aid, but like all of our high tech devices today; the more technology a hearing aid has, the higher its price will be. There are additional fees for services added to the basic device cost and it’s those costs that create the variance by a clinic. You get what you pay for!

Other costs include varied hearing testing, selection of the appropriate device, dispensing fees, verification after the fitting, programming for multiple environments needed specifically to the patient needs, extended warranties, lost, stolen and damage coverage, office and in-home service plans. I’d like to talk about these different costs and, in doing so, I hope to dispel some of the current apprehension around investing in your hearing health.

It is worthwhile to explain that hearing evaluations (tests) are not covered by OHIP in any hearing aid office. In order to keep prices reasonable and fair, Hearing Instrument Practitioners in Ontario are part of a professional association that helps them to regulate their practices, as are Audiologists. The governing body, Association of Hearing Instrument Practitioners of Ontario (AHIP) provides a recommended fee guide that details the maximum cost of any service provided by a hearing clinic, including testing services. This fee guide is posted in each office so you can clearly understand the potential costs. The maximum fee allowed for testing is $84. Each clinic must determine their own fees for testing to that maximum guideline provided by AHIP. Some clinics, like Hear Well Be Well™, offer to test as a free service. There are fees for each service performed by the Specialist and fees are charged when completed. Again, you get what you pay for!

A comprehensive schedule of follow up care and fine tuning programming at regular intervals within the first 90 days compared to a one time follow up visit in the first 30 days will vary the charges for office fees.

In the end, receiving a higher degree of testing, assessment and follow up care is an expense that has a great deal of value.

Office Service Plan

Some clinics offer an Office Service Plan with the purchase of your hearing aids so the cost of future office visits are bundled for lower ultimate cost to you and higher value; and that means you can come in worry-free for assistance with cleaning, repairs, reprogramming or general care and never be out of pocket when you need help. Lower costs and ongoing service when you need it are vital ingredients to a successful hearing aid fitting.

The next item that is built into the final cost of your hearing aids is the warranty. Different manufacturers provide warranties of different lengths, from 1 to 3 years. This warranty covers you for manufactures defects and repairs only. Repair costs are high after the warranty expires so having as long of a warranty is preferable. Hear Well Be Well™ even offers a no charge 5-year extended warranty on some of the products they dispense. The longer the coverage, the more value it provides in the end.

Loss, stolen and damage coverage is also very important and can vary from a one year only, some offer a two year and some will offer a three-year policy at no charge. Warranties are there to help us be prepared for the unexpected – like forgetting to take them out before we dive into a pool, or the dog chewing one to bits!

What about protection for drastic changes in hearing. We don’t expect sudden changes but head injuries in a car accident or a fall, a stroke or even ototoxic medication can cause these sudden changes. Wouldn’t it be comforting to know that if your hearing declined drastically within the next 2 years you would be able to replace your hearing aids with technology that will meet your new needs without paying that bill again? Hear Well Be Well™ has a solution with one of the leading manufacturers at no charge.

And finally, some warranties are only in effect within Canada, while others cover you no matter where you travel internationally. For people who travel outside of Canada, this type of coverage is crucial for peace of mind. Hear Well Be WellTM works with one manufacturer that honours your warranty in 50 countries and has over 1,500 independently owned outlets across Canada and the USA. Now that’s impressive!

Understanding the warranty being provided with your hearing aid is very important and a critical component in the value of the hearing solution you are purchasing. If you are comparison shopping, be sure to understand and compare the features of the warranty of each device you are considering before choosing. Some manufacturers charge $1,000 for extended coverage for one year on each hearing aid and others include three-year coverage free. It makes you wonder which one believes in their product.

When we say “accessories” that can include everything from batteries, to cleaning solutions and other Assistive Listening Devices (ALD’s), like wireless TV streamers and remote microphones. Accessories like TV streamers and remote controls that are included for FREE are actually not free. They are built in costs from the hearing aid manufacturer in the price of the hearing aids so you get them even if you don’t need them or want them. You’re paying for them anyways!

Batteries are the primary consideration when we are thinking about accessories with hearing aids. There are different sizes of batteries as well as different manufacturers and this means each type can last a different amount of time. On average, when properly stored and used, the smallest hearing aid battery will last 3-4 days for a full-time wearer and the largest batteries can last upwards to two weeks or more. Some Hearing Aid Clinics provide you with a package of 4 batteries and others will include a full box of 60 batteries with your hearing aid purchase. So this will vary your total invoice cost. Future cost to replace batteries also varies by the clinic. It’s something to consider when you’re budgeting the ongoing cost of maintaining your hearing aids. (One of the big differences we offer at Hear Well Be Well™ is that we provide 4 years of free batteries with your hearing aid purchase when you buy the first year supply with the hearing aid purchase. Details are available in office).

At the end of the day, there are many components in the price of hearing aids. Understanding hearing aid pricing may help to increase your overall satisfaction with your decision to invest in your hearing. Having confidence that you are getting the best solution for health provides peace of mind that is invaluable. The first step in determining which hearing solution is right for you is always to have a comprehensive hearing test completed. To arrange a free, comprehensive hearing test, please contact us today!

Request a free hearing screening or Take our online hearing test

Not everything is what it seems…

Have you seen ads like this?

“Hearing Aids for as low as $299 each” or “Buy two hearing aids for $995 (fine print: after any available grants, which could be $1,000 for two hearing aids. Fees for service extra)”

These ads are very enticing. They get people who need hearing aids thinking: “Finally there are low-cost hearing aids!”

The truth

The truth is that every single hearing aid clinic in Ontario has these products available. They are the lowest wholesale price published within the Ministry of Health’s regulated price catalogue.

The questions

The question is why haven’t you seen these prices advertised before if everyone in Ontario has them and they are not new to the industry? The answer is simply, that advertising the lowest wholesale cost is deceptive because that is only a part of the total price you pay when buying hearing aids. Hearing aid clinics are not a retailer, therefore, hearing aids are sold at wholesale cost plus fees for services. There are many types of fees, for example, hearing screening, programming digital hearing aids, impression for custom hearing aids, custom ear moulds and dispensing. As these fees are regulated, many hearing aid offices publish them for public viewing.

The question now becomes what is a realistic price to pay for hearing aids? It will not be $299 for one or $995 for two hearing aids; that is deceptive. As there are hundreds of hearing aids to choose from (depending on your hearing loss and your lifestyle) and service fees vary depending on the degree of customization the hearing aid requires, it is therefore impossible to advertise a price with any sort of certainty. You can verify this for yourself. Call the organization who is advertising these low prices and ask what you can expect to pay for hearing aids including all services. The answer will not be $299 for one or $995 for two.

Technology

As you are pondering this, there is another question to consider before buying hearing aids: “Will a low-cost hearing aid really help me?” The answer depends on your specific situation. You will not know the answer this question until all of the hearing screenings have been completed, your needs analyzed and you have chosen the style of hearing aid that you feel is right for you to wear. Only then will you know the cost and what the most appropriate hearing aid is for you. It could be one of the following:

  • the low-end technology $299 hearing aid (non-digital, 1980’s technology)
  • the mid range technology $1,600 hearing aid (good quality digital); or
  • the high-end technology $2,900 hearing aid (best quality digital)
  • ….or one of the hundreds in between these.

Fees for service are the same regardless (except for customization) of which hearing aid you need to help you to hear to the best of your ability.

In conclusion

Rather than believing these too good to be true hearing aid ads, I suggest you find someone you trust who is honest and has a solid reputation; someone who cares about your needs over their own. Let this trusted person conduct the all of the hearing tests needed (not just one or two) to truly understand if hearing aids are the best solution for your hearing situation; and if so, what is the best hearing aid technology to help you hear to the best of your ability.

After all hearing well is a part of being well.

In my next article, I will go into more details about services and their costs.