Hearing Aids Help, but Professional Fittings Yield the Highest Patient Satisfaction Vs. OTC

hearing test IIThe first-ever placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial of hearing aid outcomes published in the American Journal of Audiology shows that older adults benefit from hearing aid use.

Study Pits Audiologist Best Practices with OTC Hearing Aid Purchases

Led by researchers at Indiana University with funding support from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), the study sought to compare patient outcomes when hearing aids are delivered via an audiology “best practices” model compared with an “over-the-counter” (OTC) model. In the context of this study, the OTC model meant that patients received a high-quality, pre-programmed hearing aid that was not fitted by an audiologist. All of the individuals in this study received a complete audiological evaluation prior to treatment.

Hearing Aids Do Provide Benefits to Older Adults

According to the researchers, the findings provide firm evidence that hearing aids do, in fact, provide significant benefit to older adults. The study looked at 154 adults ages 55-79 years old with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. All participants received the same high-end digital mini hearing aids fitted in both ears.

Over-the-Counter Group Was Less Satisfied with Hearing Aids

Subjects were divided into three groups. One (the best practices group) received “best practices” services from audiologists that included professional fitting and counseling; one (the OTC group) received no professional fitting by an audiologist and selected their own pre-programmed hearing aids; and one (the placebo group) received a professional fitting but used a hearing aid that was programmed to provide no acoustical benefit.

Researchers found that hearing aids are effective in older adults for both the audiology best practices model and the OTC model. There were no significant differences in outcome between these two service-delivery approaches for five of the six outcome measures, but the OTC group fared somewhat worse when it came to satisfaction with their hearing aids. Fewer OTC participants were also likely to purchase their hearing aids after the trial (55 percent for the OTC group vs. 81 percent for the best practices group, with 36 percent for the placebo group).

Following the initial 6-week trial, both the OTC and placebo groups were offered hearing aids under the best practices model. Satisfaction significantly increased for patients in both groups who chose to continue under an audiologist’s care, and more participants opted to purchase their hearing aids after this continued period of care than after the initial trial.

Many More People Could Benefit from Hearing Aids

In the United States, a large discrepancy exists between the number of people who could benefit from hearing aids and those who actually wear them. Close to 29 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids, according to NIDCD. Yet, among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from wearing hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) have ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20-69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit have ever used them.

So what does this all mean for you? First, hearing aids are beneficial and second, working with an audiologist means you’ll have better outcomes and be more satisfied with the hearing aids you choose.


Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist who can provide you with the “best practices” model cited here.