Some people with mild to moderate hearing loss may benefit from an over-the-counter hearing device, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2017. Called personal sound-amplification products (PSAPs), they are technologically similar to regular hearing aids but a fraction of the cost.
Johns Hopkins and Towson University researchers recently tested five different PSAPs on 42 men and women with hearing loss, ages 60 to 85, to see how the hearing devices stacked up against both conventional hearing aids and no hearing aid.
When the individuals were tested for understanding speech using no aid, they averaged an accuracy score of 77 percent. When using a hearing aid, their speech-understanding accuracy improved to 88 percent.
How the new hearing devices performed
One PSAP—the Sound World Solutions CS50+—came significantly close to the accuracy of a more expensive hearing aid, scoring 87 percent. The Sound World model sells for $350. Three other PSAPs also improved accuracy as well: the Soundhawk (at 87 percent accuracy), the Etymotic BEAN (84 percent; $300) and the Tweak Focus (81 percent; $300). (The Soundhawk is no longer available for sale.)
But a fifth device, the MSA 30X Sound Amplifier, which sells for $30, performed so poorly that it actually made hearing worse than no aid at all, according to the researchers.
More could use hearing help
Among adults 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them, according to the National Institutes of Health. Even fewer adults age 20 to 69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them. The reason may be the expense: The average cost of a pair of hearing aids is $4,700—and Medicare and most health insurance doesn’t cover that bill.
Be aware that the study was small, and the devices were tested under isolated, controlled conditions, so accuracy may not be as high in real-life settings. But you may want to consider trying a PSAP if you have some mild hearing loss and aren’t quite ready for a hearing aid.
Because hearing loss is gradual, a PSAP could be helpful in specific situations where hearing difficulties are first noticeable, such as while watching TV, attending religious services, or trying to converse in noisy restaurants. An audiologist (a hearing specialist) can measure your hearing loss and assist you in choosing a device.