—Seek recommendations. If a hearing aid is appropriate, it’s crucial to pick a hearing professional who answers all your questions and listens to your concerns. Options include an audiologist, who has a master’s or doctoral degree, or a hearing aid dispenser, who may be equally knowledgeable. Ask relatives and friends who have a hearing aid.
—Check insurance coverage. The initial evaluation normally is covered, but until recently the hearing aid, fitting and follow-up were rarely covered. Roughly 30 percent of plans cover at least some of that.
—Interview a couple hearing aid providers. Besides an initial evaluation, you’ll need a fitting that includes programming the device and training on insertion, cleaning and battery changing.
—Get tested. It should be free. If it’s not, don’t go there. At this stage you should receive a 45- to 60-minute test analyzing your hearing loss, such as whether your problem is mainly with low frequencies or high frequencies. High frequencies usually go first as you age, making it difficult to understand children and women.
—Discuss your specific problems. For many, that’s trouble talking on the phone and hearing conversations at a party or restaurant. For those still working, it may be difficulty participating in office meetings.
Knowing those details will help your audiologist pick the most suitable device. If it’s programmable, you can have multiple settings for specific situations, such as quietly listening to music, trying to hear over all the background chatter at church bingo or carrying on a conversation when you’re driving and can’t watch the passenger’s face.
—Review optional features. If you want multiple settings for different sound situations, you might consider a remote control to switch between settings.
Feedback control, which prevents loud squealing and whistling, is a must.
You likely will want directional hearing aids; they have two or three microphones, which helps you focus on what you want to hear and can reduce annoying background noise.
If you use a cellphone, ask about hearing aid compatibility. For example, there are hearing aids that are iPhone compatible. They can stream a call directly into your hearing aids.
But you may not need the most advanced bells and whistles. Those include hearing aids that are water-resistant and ones with accessories that streams to different audio sources.
—Consider appearance. Options include devices that hook behind the ear, sit in the outer ear, or are in the ear canal and nearly invisible.
-Beware of “bargains,” though. Some hearing aids can be bought online, but most Internet offerings are really just personal sound amplifiers. Although they sell for as little as $100, they’re not regulated and are only for people who want volume boosted a bit.
—Review the warranty. Hearing aids typically are covered for one to three years, and the first year may include replacing lost ones — a common problem, since they’re so small. An extended warranty might be smart.