Help for the Hard of Hearing
Who can help if you think you might be experiencing some level of hearing loss (it’s a problem for 16% of the general population, and 33% of those aged 60 plus)?
If you have any concerns about your hearing, a first step is to book a free appointment with a specialist (either a hearing therapist or an audiologist) for a basic screening test. These specialists carry out clinical hearing assessments to determine whether there is any hearing loss, the type and severity of the loss, and how it may be affecting your quality of life or ability to communicate effectively. An audiogram will show exactly how your hearing is working at different volume and pitch levels.
If you are claiming assistance through ACC because your hearing loss may be work-related, an audiologist’s referral is required.
Audiologists have a Master of Audiology Degree and may be a Member of the New Zealand Audiological Society. Audiometrists are professionals who have completed either a Bachelor’s degree or extensive on-the-job training with audiologists.
After your hearing is reviewed, you may need hearing aids, in which case the audiologist and audiometrist will provide full information about the different available aids and which might best meet your needs.
Only MNZAS registered audiologists can access the Government’s $500+ per hearing aid subsidy, which is available to all New Zealanders who require this help every six years.
Advice and funding
The Ministry of Health funds a free Aural Rehabilitation Service for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.
LIFE Unlimited currently has the contract for this service. It employs hearing therapists to carry out screening tests, and to give advice about assistive listening devices and tinnitus.
You can contact LIFE directly for a free consultation about any hearing issue at all. Some hearing therapists practice privately, for a fee, but in either case, the therapist should be a Member of the Hearing Therapists Association of New Zealand (HTANZ). They do not sell hearing aids and their advice is completely impartial.
It may be possible to get hearing aids through your hospital clinic, but if you prefer to go to one of the many high-street practitioners, shop for the best advice and deals as you would for any major purchase.
Hearing aids cost anything from $1,600 to $8,000 a pair, depending on the type of aids you require. You may not need the most expensive sort or, indeed, any at all. Don’t feel pressured to make a purchasing decision at an initial hearing assessment.
Hearing aids are a significant investment, and making the best choice can have a huge impact on your life (good or bad). For this reason, rushing into a decision is not necessarily the ideal option. Equally, you may see bargain hearing aids advertised on the internet or in home shopping catalogues, but is it worth paying for something that may end up gathering dust in a drawer because it isn’t right for you? Suddenly those savings become a colossal waste of money! This is where a registered professional can be trusted to provide you with only as much help as you really need.
You should ask the practitioner(s) you consult to provide an itemised list of costs, not just for the aids but also associated fees, service charges, and so on. You should also be given a copy of your audiogram so that you can shop around for the best deal.
Do check that the audiologists you approach are members of the MNZAS; this will ensure that you qualify for the Government subsidy if you require hearing aids.
You will notice that the prices quoted are for pairs of aids and may wonder why you need two if only one of your ears is impaired. This is analogous to being better off with two eyes (or spectacles rather than a monocle), limbs, or other body parts which come in pairs; you can manage with one, but two help to balance each other, so properly prescribed and fitted hearing aids can balance your hearing.
Your specialist will give you advice about whether one or two aids (if any) will suit your needs. Once you have been fitted with hearing aids, you should be offered them on a trial basis. It pays to keep notes about what you could and couldn’t hear clearly while using the aids, and to decide how important these aspects are to you.
The Hearing Association advises new hearing aid users to be wary of their own expectations, as hearing aids are still only aids, and need positive rehabilitation to become accustomed to.
Your practitioner will invite you to return for an assessment at the end of the trial period, and you can then discuss any hearing concerns and whether appropriate adjustments can be made.
Sadly, there are people everywhere who prey on the vulnerable or anxious, and the hearing industry has its share of these. That’s why it’s always a good idea to consult those who have the proper qualifications and professional affiliations.
As with almost everything that matters, you really do get what you pay for.
Hearing aids are only part of the story and there are lots more services available, whether your hearing loss is severe or just a case of ‘why does everyone mumble
FAQs for your assessment
- What style of hearing aid is right for me?
- Do I need hearing aids for both ears?
- What is the price of various hearing aids and are there any ongoing costs?
- How much hearing loss do I need before hearing aids are required?
- Will using hearing aids make my hearing worse, or my ears ‘lazy’?
- What is a digital hearing aid?
- Why do some people’s hearing aids ‘whistle’?
- Are hearing aids difficult to operate?
- I already have hearing aids but still find it hard to hear in some situations. Can anything else be done?
Hearing loss in children
Much has been discussed about the prevalence of hearing loss in people over the age of 60, but another group of New Zealanders arguably requires even more attention: children.
Hearing assessment services for children are available from various organisations. Your child’s school, GP, District Health Board, or Plunket nurse should be able to guide you to a local assessor.
The NZ Audiological Society or the National Foundation for the Deaf can provide information about possible causes of hearing impairment and how to gauge whether your child may have a problem that could lead to deafness if left undiagnosed, such as the common complaint of glue ear.
Research has shown that frequent or prolonged exposure to loud noise can have a detrimental effect on hearing. Various innovations are available to protect young children who may be susceptible to hearing loss.
An example is the Safe Sound Indicator (SSI), an electronic ‘traffic light’ that can be placed in a potentially noisy environment, such as a classroom, kindergarten or day centre. The lights activate when sound reaches a certain decibel level, with red indicating a dangerously high level of noise, and green giving the all clear. If you have concerns about your child’s environment, why not ask whether an SSI device can be used at your child’s school, day care centre, or kindy?
Hearing difficulties are a major cause of educational failure, but technology such as a personal FM can help children who have hearing aids and/or cochlear implants. These devices, equipped with microphones a bit like those used by pop stars, are worn by the teacher, with sound received by the pupil’s special hearing aid. This clears away noise that makes hearing in a crowded or busy environment so difficult. Personal FMs are available from audiologists or deaf advisors.
If you are worried about your child’s hearing, help is available!
Visit the website of the National Foundation for the Deaf, talk to a registered audiologist, or ask for advice from your local Hearing Association!
Thanks to Bridget of the Nelson Hearing Association for assisting with our article.
Help on the web
We like the helpful fact sheets at Hearing Association NZ’s website. You may wish to consult your local Hearing Association branch before arranging an appointment with an audiologist. Their advice is free and impartial.
Hearing Therapists Association of NZ
National Foundation for the Deaf
NZ Audiological Society. Find your nearest audiologist!
Photo: Shutterstock.com, RTImages