Hearing aid technology is improving, thank goodness, because over 80% of people over 85 report at least some hearing loss. And the percentage of people reporting hearing loss is likely to get worse, considering all the incredibly loud rock music the now-aging baby boomers listened to in their youth. (“What did you say, Mom? My ears are still ringing from last night’s concert.”) But hearing aids have two large, related problems. First, they’re extremely expensive, costing $2,500 and up per ear; $5,000 as a starting point is more than many can afford. Second, there’s a specific carve-out that actually prohibits Medicare from covering the cost of hearing aids.
Enter the Personal Sound Amplification Product (“PSAP”). These are devices designed to amplify sounds going into your ears, but they are prohibited by law from being advertised as intended to help with hearing loss. This means they aren’t highly regulated, but in part because of that, it’s hard to know which ones are good. The number of companies and products has been multiplying rapidly. Directional microphones and sound amplification technology are already widely available, so creating a device is not particularly difficult. However, because of the lack of oversight, they range from excellent, all the way down to actually making it more difficult for you to hear.
An article from the New York Times on July 20th discussed these products. The reporter spoke to a Johns Hopkins audiologist, Dr. Nicholas Reed, who had run small-scale tests on several PSAPs and found a few he thought were worth looking into if you are hearing-impaired. These were the Soundhawk, the CS50+, and the Bean T-Coil. They performed almost as well as a regular hearing aid, and cost between $350 and $400. He tested only 29 people, so his sample size was very small, but his results were encouraging.
Other options are probably coming down the pike, but until there is an affordable hearing aid that insurance can help pay for, it could be worth your while – and worth the money – to investigate a PSAP.