Hearing Amplifiers vs Hearing Aids - What's Better?

28 January 2020 Assisted Living

When it comes to hearing aids and amplifiers, many online sources can be misleading as to how these devices can actually help or hurt you long term. Of course, choosing between hearing amplifiers and hearing aids is one of many on a long list of questions that the elderly and their loved ones face across the country. Considering how overwhelming these questions can be, it’s important to have access to all the information you need to make an educated decision.

So, what’s the difference between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers? What’s their purpose? Are there any associated health risks? Which is right for you? All these questions and more are answered below for your convenience!

What Are They?

Hearing amplifiers and hearing aids are entirely different devices, though they are used to achieve similar results. Hearing amplifiers, or personal sound amplifiers, are used to help users hear even the most subtle nearby sounds. The most common designs are shaped like earbuds or Bluetooth devices.

Hearing aids also help their users to hear more sounds in their environment, albeit with far more precision and complexity. The first hearing aids as we know them today started appearing at the very beginning of the 20th-century.  Hearing aids have certainly come a long way since then with a complex, electronic, and compact design that allows them to be worn either in or behind the user’s ear. Modern hearing aids tend to look impressively subtle, especially when compared to those early prototypes. Hearing aids are meant for those experiencing hearing loss, as they are professionally tuned to boost specific frequencies.

Their Key Differences

There is a wide array of differences between hearing amplifiers and hearing aids, despite what the media or some manufacturers may have you believe. Their basic design, the process of tuning , their intended use; all of these exhibit key differences. Here are the five most significant differences between these two pieces of technology.

Hearing Aids Are More Complex

While amplifiers boost ALL sounds, hearing aids have a more personalized and complex design that allows them to only boost set frequencies, rather than all of them. Those who are looking for a device to help them hear during everyday interactions will find aids more suitable. While an amplifier may improve the listener’s ability to hear people in conversation, it will also increase the sounds of tree rustling, microwaves going off, and a myriad of other noises that may be unpleasant to hear at a louder volume.

Amplifiers Are For Those With Normal Hearing

Perhaps the most important difference between aids and amplifiers is that amplifiers are meant for those with normal hearing, not for those who are experiencing hearing loss. As stated above, hearing aids are finely tuned to make up for the losses experienced by the user. Amplifiers, on the other hand, are used by those with normal hearing so that they can hear quieter, more subtle, sounds.

Reasons for Use

As stated before, amplifiers simply boost the surrounding sounds in the user’s environment. This makes them ideal for special events and outings where it helps to hear things at a higher volume. Hearing aids aren’t meant to be used to just raise environmental sounds, but rather mitigate the user’s pre-existing hearing loss.

Custom vs One Size Fits All

Hearing aids are a complex piece of technology that can be altered to accommodate the type of hearing loss experienced by the user. This is a stark contrast to the one-size-fits-all amplifier that typically can’t be altered in any meaningful way.

Costs and Accessibility

One of the reasons why hearing amplifiers are being used by people who aren’t necessarily meant to use them is that they’re typically more affordable and easier to access. In part due to their one-size-fits-all design, hearing amplifiers can be purchased over the counter without prescription.

Hearing aids have to be fit and fine-tuned by a professional, and may also cost up to thousands of dollars more than the average amplifier. While the temptation to opt for the cheaper amplifier is understandable, consumers must know that these two products are NOT synonymous.

Common Misconceptions

The most common misconception about hearing aids and hearing amplifiers is that they’re essentially the same device, designed to accomplish the same goals. Despite the fact that they’re both hearing devices, the goals of these devices are different in almost every way possible.

Many online shops that sell tempting, affordable amplifiers that can be easily shipped out want potential users to believe that an amplifier is a reasonable alternative for a hearing aid. It is this sort of misleading advertising practice that unfortunately plagues many websites that claim to be looking out for the well-being of the elderly and their families. With the overload of content online, it’s more important than ever to seek out reliable resources that help you navigate all the ‘common misconceptions’ that exist in this field.

The most toxic misconception surrounding these products is that an amplifier does the job of a hearing aid. The truth is, amplifiers can cause significant harm to those with pre-existing hearing loss.

The Health Risks

Hearing amplifiers can be dangerous if they’re not used appropriately. Excessive use, and/or use by those with hearing loss can turn this otherwise helpful piece of technology into something precarious. Given that hearing amplifiers increase the volume of everything within range of the user, wearing the device can result in further damage to one’s hearing. Hearing amplifiers are NOT hearing aids. They do not address hearing loss or mitigate its effects, and trying to use them as such can in fact result in accelerated deterioration.

The issue of people using amplifiers as an attempt to improve hearing loss has become increasingly problematic. In response, audiologists and organizations such as the FDA have been trying to warn the public about the differences between the two products in hopes that people will make more informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones.

Why Use Hearing Amplifiers?

If amplifiers don’t mitigate the effects of hearing loss, and even have the potential to worsen it, why would anyone want to use them? For those with normal hearing, purchasing a personal sound amplifier can be useful for several situations. Here are five examples of the ways some people take advantage of hearing amplifiers.

Hunting

For hunters, a hearing amplifier can be a really handy device. Hunters need a sharp sense of hearing in order to pick up on a wide variety of sounds that they’ll encounter while on a hunting trip, such as growling, splashing, running, walking, and much more. An amplifier helps hunters to hear environmental sounds with more clarity and precision, which can improve their overall performance significantly.

Birdwatching

A hearing amplifier can enhance the experience of birdwatchers. Given that these devices elevate all surrounding sounds, they allow birdwatchers to hear even the quietest chirps nearby. This makes it easier to locate birds that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Childcare

For those watching children or working in childcare, a hearing amplifier can improve their ability to hear children or babies in other rooms. Kids are known to get into mischief when they’re not being watched, but a hearing amplifier can give users the capability they need to stop trouble before it starts.

The theatre

Most people know what it’s like to be at the theatre, either for a play or a movie, and to not be able to hear what the actors are saying. When sitting in an enclosed space with lots of other people, it can be difficult to discern what people are saying, especially if they’re speaking quickly. A hearing amplifier can raise the volume of the room so that you can hear dialogue even from the very back.

What is Normal Hearing?

Now that we’ve established that amplifiers are meant for those with normal hearing, it’s important to understand exactly what normal hearing actually is. Having this information is crucial to those making a decision between the two products. For those with hearing loss, an amplifier will simply increase volume, rather than improve comprehension. This renders an amplifier counterproductive, and, as we’ve discussed, potentially dangerous.

There are many defining features of hearing loss that can be used to make the distinction between those with normal hearing and those experiencing problems. Struggles with comprehension, a frequent need to raise the volume on your devices, the need to resort to lip-reading, and difficulty hearing in busy environments are the most telltale signs of hearing loss.

That being said, consulting with a medical professional is the most reliable way to determine the state of your hearing, so be sure to seek one out if you find you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. While it’s good to be conscious of your own health issues, an audiogram is critical to reliably and safely determining hearing loss.

Hearing amplifiers are not an alternative to hearing aids, though this remains one of the many myths surrounding hearing loss. Unfortunately, many people get caught up in the convenience and affordability of hearing amplifiers, even though treating hearing loss with an amplifier is counterproductive.

In fact, a study done by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Diseases found that, of the 36 million Americans who could benefit from a hearing aid, only 20% actually use one. There are many factors at play here, but the most prevalent issues are likely to be the lack of public awareness about hearing aids and their relatively high price tag.

Which is Better?

The question isn’t really which device is better, but rather, which device is better for you and your needs. For those experiencing hearing loss, hearing aids are definitely the better choice. They are specifically designed to accommodate differing levels of hearing loss, as opposed to amplifiers, which can harm those who don’t have what is medically considered to be normal hearing.

Amplifiers can be beneficial for people with normal hearing when used recreationally. While they shouldn’t be used excessively, amplifiers have proven to be helpful for people like hunters and bird watchers, as well as those attending events where they may want to be able to hear things at a higher volume.

The best way to determine whether you or a loved one should purchase a hearing aid or a hearing amplifier is to jot down the reasons why. If the reasons align with the aforementioned uses of an amplifier, and the potential user doesn’t experience hearing loss as part of their daily life, then an amplifier can be of a lot of use.

If this person does experience hearing loss and wants to improve their comprehension level than a visit to a healthcare professional may be in order. This will give them the diagnosis they need, so that they can get the ideal hearing aid for their condition. A new lease of life, and a newfound level of enjoyment of each and every day, could be just around the corner.

Reliable Resources for Elderly Care

It can be difficult to find a centralized place in which you have access to trusted resources for elderly care. Whether you have questions about in-home care, assisted living, medication, nutrition, or technology, you can rely on Bethany Home.

Making choices about hearing aids, medications, and living facilities can be stressful. Born out of a desire to improve the quality of life for elderly people, Bethany Home offers information and resources to help support the elderly and their loved ones as they make these choices with confidence.

It’s our mission to keep you from having to do the seemingly endless amount of research to avoid the misconceptions, false reviews, and scams that the internet has to offer.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information. You can use our online form, call us at (925) 443-6822, or email us at info@bethanyhomecare.com. You can also find us at our Livermore and Concord locations in California. We’d love to hear from you.