Part of our series on healthy senior living. Hearing aids can improve your quality of life, so why put off a product that can help? These professionals show you how to find the perfect hearing aid.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series this issue on healthy senior living. Also see our articles on Senior Living Accommodations, Healthy Eyes and Pain Management.
Hearing loss can be a difficult issue to acknowledge. Hearing aids are expensive, and with no Medicare coverage and little to no insurance coverage, it can be easy to just accept the problem. But the joy that hearing brings is not something to ignore.
With an emphasis on ethical business practices and compassion for those with hearing loss, some of the region’s top hearing aid professionals strive to do better for their patients. For these companies, it’s health care first, sales second.
Shaunna Colombo knew from a young age that she wanted to work with senior citizens. Her passion for the elderly is a driving force behind many decisions, both personally and professionally.
“I was raised primarily by my grandmother, and most of my childhood memories revolve around her,” Colombo says. “I’ve always had a certain affection for the elderly, so I’ve always tried to think of ways to work with that age group and make a positive difference.”
Since June 2015, Colombo has fulfilled that dream by owning and operating Hearing Helpers, 1638 N. Bell School Road, Rockford. Her mission is to treat every patient like her grandmother and provide the best hearing care possible.
“I worked for other companies for years, and I finally decided that I could do better,” Colombo says. “I think this industry has been tarnished by the ‘used car salesman’ approach, because I’ve seen patients treated like a sale and not a person. This industry should be about a patient’s well-being, not the profit. I’ve decided to single-handedly turn this industry around, at least in my own backyard.”
Before an initial appointment, Colombo reviews a patient’s intake form to thoroughly understand the reason behind the visit. She asks the difficult questions, such as ‘What was your final breaking point?’ and ‘How does this hearing deficit affect your life?’ Then, Colombo uses state-of-the-art equipment to evaluate the patient. Using a computerized audiometer and sound system, Colombo determines the extent to which a patient is experiencing hearing loss before helping the patient to find the proper hearing aid.
Colombo completes much of this process in a living room setting.
“By the time a patient actually picks up the phone and calls me, it’s extremely emotional,” Colombo says. “They’ve had to come to grips with an impairment, and it’s impacted their lives and the lives of their family. It’s my job to educate them and treat them like family. So, when people come to get their hearing aids, they’re typically a little nervous – they don’t know what to expect, so I like to make them feel at home and relaxed. That’s why this room looks like a comfortable, casual living space.”
Hearing aids do not restore a person’s hearing back to normal – they can only aid in what hearing a person has left. Colombo finds it important to openly communicate with her patients about the limitations of hearing aid devices. She also conducts additional testing to understand a patient’s personal hearing limitations before attempting to match the patient with the appropriate aid.
Hearing Helpers conducts speech and noise testing with patients, which determines how well a patient distinguishes sound from background noise.
“This kind of testing isn’t as common as it should be,” Colombo says. “Some people don’t have that big of a problem in noise, while some people can’t function at all in places like restaurants or large family gatherings. It’s my job to pair a patient with the best device for them, so conducting this type of testing is important to me.”
When it comes to pricing options, Hearing Helpers offers hearing aids as low as $899 per aid, with a range up to $3,000 per aid. Colombo extensively considers the patient’s lifestyle before making a suggestion.
“No one in their right mind should give a 90-year-old gentleman who rarely leaves his apartment a $3,000 pair of hearing aids. It’s sickening,” Colombo says. “A 55-year-old gentleman or lady who’s working full-time and is socially active – they would benefit from a more-expensive type of hearing aid. It’s important to have that conversation about the patient’s lifestyle.”
At the end of the day, Colombo’s job satisfaction comes from the personal conversations she has with her patients.
“I’ve had patients come here and tell me, ‘This was meant to be. I was meant to see you. You have changed my life,’” she says. “What better way to end a day than that?”
Capturing Rich Moments
Hearing aids are expensive, and for the most part, payment is out-of-pocket. That’s why in 1962, Lloyd Kling opened Lloyd Hearing Aid, after noticing an unfilled niche for affordable hearing care. His goal was to buy hearing aids in bulk and sell them to consumers at a more-affordable price.
“At the time, that was a revolutionary idea,” says Andrew Palmquist, a licensed dispenser with the company. “No one was selling hearing aids directly to consumers, and my dad, a friend of Lloyd, helped purchase the hearing aids from international sources and sell them to consumers at a huge savings.”
Today, Lloyd Hearing Aid Corp., 4435 Manchester Drive, Rockford, helps patients receive the care they need at an affordable price, both in-person and through mail-order. The company works with six major hearing aid manufacturers to provide a wide variety of devices to customers.
Patients undergo an extensive audiological assessment and an evaluation of hearing at various frequencies. Then, Palmquist can recommend what device is the best fit. Patients who already know what device they want can order from Lloyd Hearing Aid Corp. directly online at lloydhearingaid.com.
Palmquist suggests seeing an ears, nose and throat specialist (ENT) before making an initial appointment.
“We always encourage everyone, especially a person who’s getting a hearing aid for the first time, to see an ENT to make sure outside medical issues aren’t involved, such as tumors in the ear or some other unconsidered abnormality,” Palmquist says. “In our testing, if we see things that we think require medical attention, we refer our patients to an ENT immediately before handling anything on a hearing aid level.”
After the assessment is complete, Palmquist pairs patients with one of two types of hearing aids: ones that go in the ear or ones that go behind the ear. Over the past 10 to 12 years, customers have shifted their preference from in-the-ear aids to behind-the-ear aids, Palmquist says.
“With the invention of digital hearing aids, or ones that have a computer chip in them, behind-the-ear has become more preferable,” Palmquist says. “Now, most hearing aids have anti-feedback cancellations, which means they don’t whistle when they’re turned up too loud. This new technology means you don’t have to achieve such an airtight seal in your ear canal anymore. That’s why behind-the-ear is more popular – it works just as well thanks to the computer chip, and you get more air traveling in and out of the ear canal. It’s a lot more natural.”
Once the proper hearing aids arrive, Palmquist likes to make sure that patients are comfortable changing their hearing aid batteries. Depending on the size of the hearing aid, most small devices need a battery change every five to seven days, while larger batteries may last three weeks to a month.
Palmquist urges anyone who struggles with hearing loss to seek care.
“On average, it’s seven to eight years before a person who knows they have a hearing loss goes and seeks help,” Palmquist says. “There can be an issue of denial or embarrassment. But one thing that you have to realize is that hearing is critical to your life, and we have the technology today that helps you in ways like never before. I try to urge people: Don’t leave life’s joys behind. At the end of the day, hearing aids can help you capture those rich moments.”