Consumer Reports Rates PSAP’s

Bouton Blog - Consumer Reports
CR looked at hearing devices called PSAP’s – Istock

The February issue of Consumer Reports  magazine took an in-depth look at hearing loss and the hearing aid industry, as well as at the newest “hearing helpers” — less expensive, over-the-counter devices that may help some people with mild to moderate hearing problems.

Titled “No More Suffering in Silence?,” the report included the results of a fall 2015 survey of more than 131,000 of CR‘s subscribers. Nearly half reported they had trouble hearing in noisy environments, yet only 25 percent had had their hearing checked in the past year.

This isn’t surprising, as anyone who follows the hearing-healthcare business knows. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that among adults 20 to 69, only 16 percent of those who could benefit from a hearing aid has one.

Consumer Reports, however, with a subscription base of 7 million, reaches far more people than an NIDCD statistic does. When CR tells its readers about the dangers of untreated hearing loss, it is sending a message to millions who might not otherwise hear it.

The Consumer Reports article begins with an overview of hearing loss, noting the recent changes in understanding of the consequences of hearing loss. Once dismissed as “part of getting older” or a “nuisance,” we now know that untreated hearing loss is a “significant national health concern, one that’s associated with other serious health problems, including depression and a decline in memory and concentration. Several studies even suggest a link between hearing loss and dementia,” the article says.

Cost could be a big reason for this, the magazine notes. The National Academy of Sciences reports that hearing aids cost an average $4,700 per pair in 2013 and can climb to almost twice that price. Plus, hearing aids are usually not covered by health insurance or Medicare.

This is where OTC hearing helpers — also called PSAP’s, for personal sound amplification products — come in. They cost a fraction of the price of an average hearing aid. But do they really work?

The magazine had three of its employees with mild to moderate hearing loss try four devices priced from $20 to $350, wearing them for three to seven days to see how well they could help with hearing in a noisy environment. CR‘s audio labs also tested the devices for amplification, batteries, microphone function and sound distortion.

The most important finding: Pinching pennies can hurt you. The two lowest-priced devices — the Bell & Howell Silver Sonic XL ($20) and the MSA 30X ($30) – were found not only inadequate, but also potentially dangerous. Both overamplified sharp noises, like a siren, to the point where hearing damage could occur.

A hearing-aid researcher who assessed the devices recommended avoiding those under $50. “They don’t seem to help much, if at all, and could actually further diminish your ability to hear,” the magazine reported.

The two PSAPs that fared better were the SoundWorld Solutions C550+ ($350) and the Etymotic Bean ($214 each, $399 for a pair). CR reported on the pros and cons of each device, offering overall “device advice” for each one.

In general, The C55+ and the Bean seem useful for people with mild to moderate loss. The Bean was found to be especially helpful for those with hearing loss in the higher frequencies rather than the lower. For complete details, click here.

If your hearing loss is serious enough to warrant a hearing aid (and much hearing loss is, so have your hearing checked by an audiologist first), the article offered some suggestions for ways to pay less. I’ll write about these in my next post.


A version of this post first appeared on AARP Health on March 6, 2017.

AARP Focuses on Healthy Hearing.

AARP is making a big foray into the hearing loss field, which is great for those of us who have — or will have — trouble hearing.

Even now, more than half of those with hearing loss are under the age of 60 — that means 24 million of us are already not hearing as well as we could be. By the time we reach age 75 two-thirds of us will have hearing loss. With 8000 baby boomers reaching 65 every single day, that’s going to be a lot of people with hearing loss.

As part of AARP’s effort, I have a new blog on the site, called Healthy Hearing, which will appear at least once a week. The first post is up today. To encourage AARP’s efforts in this direction, please link to the blog and also go to their Hearing Resources Center.

With the support of an enormous and influential group like AARP, people with hearing loss will have a strong advocate, to join the advocacy work done by the Hearing Loss Association of America, the National Institute on Aging, and other groups.

But AARP needs to know we care about this issue. So please click  on the link, tweet it, email it, and tell your friends. And follow it!

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to blog on this site whenever I have something to say!

Dogs and Us

Dog at rest.

     Dogs go deaf, just like we do. But this isn’t about doggie deafness.

    It’s basically a link to a lovely article by David Dudley titled “What Our Dogs Teach Us About Aging” from the AARP magazine.

        Here’s the takeaway:

      “Eat the best food you can afford. Go for a walk, even if it’s raining. Take a lot of naps. Keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh, so that the people you lick will not flinch. And when someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, go totally insane with joy.”