Dear Savvy Senior: What types of amplification products can you recommend to help people with hearing impairment? My 62-year-old husband has some hearing issues, but doesn't think he needs a hearing aid, so I'm looking for some alternative devices that can help. - Shouting Spouse
Dear Shouting, If your husband is reluctant to get a hearing aid, there are dozens of "personal sound amplification products" (PSAPs) that can help him hear better at a lower cost than most hearing aids, which can run up to $3,000 each.
PSAPs are over-the-counter electronic products (they are not FDA approved medical devices like hearing aids) that come in many different shapes and sizes that will give your husband the ability to adjust the volume and tone so he can hear better in different situations.
It's also important to know that PSAPs work best for people with mild to moderate hearing impairment, you don't need a prescription to buy them, and they usually aren't covered by insurance or Medicare.
Before you look into PSAPs, your husband should probably get tested by an audiologist who can rule out any medical issues that could be affecting his hearing like excessive ear wax, an infection, abnormal bone growth or inner-ear tumor. Audiologists are also familiar with the different PSAPs and can help your husband choose the best products to meet his needs, or let him know if a hearing aid would be a better option.
Here's a breakdown of some of the different PSAPs that can help.
TV and Telephone Amplifiers: To hear the television better, there are a number of TV listening devices on the market that will let your husband increase the volume and adjust the tone to meet his needs, without blasting out you or the rest of the family.
The best options available today are wireless infrared or radio frequency systems that come with standard or stethoset headphones. Sennheiser (sennheiser.com, 877-736-6434) makes some of the best TV listening products sold today with prices running between $250 and $350.
If hearing over the telephone is a problem, a handset or in-line amplifier can be added to your phone for a few dollars, or you can purchase an amplified telephone. Most amplified phones allow you to adjust the volume and tone for better clarity and they usually come with extra loud ringers and flashing ring indicators to alert you when a call is coming in.
Some top makers of these products are Clarity (clarityproducts.com, 800-426-3738), ClearSounds (clearsounds.com, 800-965-9043) and Serene Innovations (sereneinnovations.com, 866-376-9271), with prices ranging anywhere from $30 up to around $300. Or, see if your state has a specialized telecommunications equipment program (see tedpa.org), which provides amplified telephones for free.
Personal Sound Amplifiers: For better hearing in noisy environments, your husband should get a personal sound amplifier that's designed to amplify hard to hear sounds (like voices), while reducing background noise. Able Planet (ableplanet.com, 877-266-1979) offers two excellent products that fit the bill that are worn either in-ear or behind the ear, and run $475 or $500 for one, or $850 or $900 a pair. To help improve hearing at home or in quieter settings, or if your husband has high-frequency hearing loss, check out the Bean Quiet Sound Amplifier by Etymoyic (qsabean.com, 888-389-6684). This product, which is worn in the ear, provides amplification to high frequencies more than low ones, making speech easier to hear and understand. Cost: $700 a pair or $375 for one.
If these are too pricy, there are also a number of small hand-help amplifiers that come with a small microphone and ear buds that can increase volume without all the other features. These products typically run around $100 or less, and are available through companies like Sonic Technology Products (sonicte-chnology.com, 800-247-5548), Sonic Alert (sonicalert.com, 800-566-3210) and Harris Communications (harriscomm.com, 800-825-6758).
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.