Purchasing decision making in light of hearing aid life spans

I just realized that the digital hearing aid industry has taken the same turn as the personal computing industry in that they have worked in “planned obsolescence” into the very guts of industry practices.

Regardless of the price of these digital hearing aids–and they range from $600/each to as much as $3500/each–the hearing aids are supported by the manufacturer and audiologists for about five years (maximum!) After those five years are up the customer is on his/her own, that is if the devices haven’t given up their lives yet. Reprogramming the hearing aids becomes impossible because the fitting software is no longer available (or unavailable for the versions of MS Windows/etc. since released and installed). The audiologists and manufacturers are more interested in steering you to the “next hot thing” than in fixing what they sold you a mere few years ago. In fact they throw up their hands at seeing the very devices they sold you earlier, claim they can’t do anything about it, and suggest you are an anomaly in the general scheme of things for desiring to fix-and-use than discard-and-buy-new.

It’s no fun to swim against the tide, tilt against windmills. So my question to you concerns the decision making at the time of purchase.

a) are those five years from date of introduction of device? In which case, aren’t we better off buying the most recently introduced device than one introduced a year (or more) earlier?

b) what do people do with hearing aids that are older than five years, work well (mostly), and need the tune-up? is there the equivalent of mechanics/restorers that, for a fee, tune-up hearing aids no longer supported by manufacturers/audiologists? We are not talking of devices that are decades old…

As I consider my next set of aids, I’ve concluded the pricier ones don’t offer any more life than their less expensive cousins. All of them are governed by the five-year lifetimes! So, for the price I pay I’ve to make sure the devices deliver value I consider critical within those five years!

Comments?
Essar

Essar,

you are wrong about hearing not being serviced after 5 years.

I am an audiologist in So Cal, and I ROUTINELY see hearing aids that are over 5 yrs old.

I do most of my business with widex, Starkey, Phonak and Oticon,and they will ALL service aids more than five years old. Sometimes it costs more,but they will do it.

I’ve had a couple of instance where Siemens and Resound would not service an aid,but those aids were over 12 yrs old.

They have no choice but to do this. Tech advances so quickly that a new HA you buy today has more processing power with better mic and speaker than a computer built in the early 90s.

To answer your questions -

a) The newest aid will have the latest tech, but it will also be more likely to need tweaking. Just like all tech, release 1.0 is cool, but they will often have a release 1.1 very soon because they found some minor issues and had new chips spun or swapped resisters or caps on the circuit boards. So just like almost everything else in tech, most of the release bugs will be worked out in 6 to 8 months, so that is the best bet for a solid product with cutting edge instead of bleeding edge technology. I happen to be a bleeding edge tech guy because of my background and a willingness to suffer through some early problems in the pursuit of features.

b) I am new to HAs, but people talk about places that work on older aids. Some people have mentioned that they are upgrading after 15 years with their old aids. If yours end up doing everything you want, you can still find parts, still find someone that can service them, etc. Then keep them until they fall apart. If you want to have the latest and greatest features, or they break beyond repair then typically something in the low to mid range of the new lines will have everything you wanted in your old top end tech while still adding features that were not available at all with the old aids at any price.

Wallen, Blindrage: thank you for your responses.

a) could it be that the devices that are still ticking away and are being supported are analogs, not digitals? It occurs to me the digital hearing aid industry (well, for that matter all things digital) has factored in “planned obsolescence” on an accelerated timetable.

b) Also is it that some manufacturers have a shorter timetable than others?

Wallen, I’m soon to trial Bernafon Veras and Resound Futures. As a contingency I’d like to have my pair (actually two pairs though one would do for this purpose) of Resound CC4s retuned, reprogrammed for my new audiogram. Would you be able to do it (I live up north in the bay area and can ship them to you)? could you recommend someone that does it? Muchos gracias!

Essar
p.s. Blindrage, at what?

My degrees are BS in Electrical Engineering and soon to be MS in Software Engineer. Most of my career has been communications, but really more focused on LAN and SAN (Storage Area Network) environments. I am also the quintessential gadget freak so I try to get my hands on the newest of everything.

No, it is completely possible to get digital hearing aids that are more than 5 years old repaired. Just depends on who you deal with. There are manufacturers that will reapir these aids. They are usually out of warranty and therefore the manufacturers charge a sizeable sum to repair them tho. Most patients of mine upgrade to new aids because there is better technology out, not because their old aids can’t be repaired. Some people choose to purchase new aids instead of paying to have the older ones repaired.

If repairing a pair of digitals that are more than 5 years old costs $800, many people would rather spend $2400 on a new pair of aids that come with a 3 year warranty, than invest $800 in old technology…

Nothing particularly wrong in getting them repaired tho, just know that you’ll have to replace them at some point. If your audi tells you they CANT be repaired and they are 5 or 6 years old, fire them!

dr. amy

There is a rule of thumb for most consumer products.
If the repair costs more than 50% of a new replacement item then,
It is economically favorable to buy the new item
This assumes that the old product is/was delivering acceptable performance.
Peter

The bit where I will agree with you about planned obsolescence is the changes of casings for no reason. OK they are always trying to make hearing aids smaller (not great if you have arthritis in your hands) but there is no need to make an arbitrary change in shape. The Phonak Ambra Micro P could have been made the same shape as the Exelia Micro so it takes the same audioshoe and FM module. But they changed the shape so it takes an ML13i instead of the ML12i. I would have liked to get a design integrated FM but if it means replacing not just the hearing aids but the FM modules too every few years then I’ll have to go with the universal fit receivers.

And on a similar note, how come I cannot purchase a Nios Micro case in the pretty safari and zebra print colours to have it put on an Exelia or Versata Micro hearing aid. They fit, but they won’t allow UK audiologists to import paediatric hearing aid parts at all, even the plastic outside case!

I agree that there’s an element of obsolescence, but as others have said, I think it’s more market obsolescence than planned obsolescence, in the sense that it more quickly becomes uneconomical to repair older electronic devices these days as device prices fall and repair prices rise. Look what’s happened with TV repair, for example. Thirty years ago, many small towns had TV repair shops. Those are mostly gone. It costs as much to repair a set as to replace it, and the new tech is better, so most people prefer to buy an upgrade than pay for a repair. Sometimes, now, even TV manufacturers won’t help with a set needing repair after a very short time.

My audiologist told me she recently stopped carrying the sub-$1000 hearing aids, because they led to many more unhappy customers than the more expensive ones. She said that the people who seek and buy the $750 aids tend to start experiencing breakdowns with them after two years, and they cost just as much to repair as the pricier aids out-of-warranty, and often have weak warranties. So the upshot is, many of these customers are faced with a repair in two years that costs 50% of the cost of one new aid, and she said, they’d blame her for the shortfall between longevity and expectations. She wasn’t telling me this, I’m sure, to talk me out of seeking bargain aids. She knew I was closer to a bleeding-edge seeker than a bargain hunter. If prices fall, aids will become more disposable.

This just happened to me. I had a Starkey ITC, that is 3-4 years old requiring repair. The first comment out of the audi’s mouth was," are you sure you want to repair it-it is very expensive!" and it was $315 Cdn. At the same time I had my right ear (Oticon) aid adjusted, while trying to connect to the Software the audi made a comment that “maybe the software won’t be able to connect to the hearing aid because of its age”-2 years. Obviously comments that don’t inspire confidence. More importantly, yes every year there is something newer and shinier and sometimes way better, but I truly believe the hearing aid manufacturers setup their repair pricing and parts availability structure so that the consumer is forced to purchase a new aid sooner than they really need to. Some audiologist reinforce this cycle because there obviously is significant profit in the business. It would be great if, aside from Costco a quality discount chain were to open but then again what manufacturer would sell to them. It would be a great opportunity as the baby boomers are now at that age. My 2 cents anyways.

I recently purchased the Rexton FM remote for my hearing aids. When I went to pick up the $500 unit, it took the audiologist more than an hour to program it to my aids. Her computer kept crashing and she had to call tech support a couple of times. I was watching all of this go on and wondering if her old MS XP computer was part of the problem. Does MS still support XP?

Today, all technology moves quickly.

I’ll probably go back to Hearsource self programmable aids the next time around.

Jeff

Until fairly recently XP pro was about the best o/s to run as an Audiologist. Though W7 will be on the next machine I upgrade. Vista wasn’t the best; though I know a couple of people who do OK on it.

Personally, I’ve had a better experience with Vista than Win7, but this is on the consumer side and not as an audi w/ their software.

I thought I would comment here as I’ve experienced this first hand…

I purchased Oticon Vigos last year. I did this because my Oticon Digifocus aids were
12 years old. The one had been repaired but was not quite 100% . They did, however,
still work and most importantly helped me hear. I could have had them adjusted to deal with my hearing loss change but, as I mentioned, the one was not functioning totally 100% which would make adjustment difficult. But my audi still had the software and would gladly adjust them… They could also be repaired again (by Starkey) if I wanted.

I think if I could sum it up… it seemed a bit foolish to get a hearing test and then expect some better results adjusting aids that were so old. A repair was not a guaranteed thing.

Sadly my one new Vigo is back for repair (again). Guess which aid I’m wearing while its being repaired ? In general I like to keep an aid as long as it helps me hear and is
viable to support. Not sure who makes a long lasting aid these days.

Not to long ago appliances used to last 15 to 20 years and possibly more, now they last 10-15 years-planned obsolescence. On the other hand cars used to require repair the moment the warranty was over, now they last generally for years working well beyond their warranty period.( Hmm- I wonder if the Japanese make hearing aids) Unfortunately, hearing aids are like your dishwasher-expensive to repair and lasts for a few years only. The trouble is they are far more expensive and an absolute necessity for us.

Got to remember, there are some good amount of modules that only run on a 32 bit computer. Example, some of the maico modules. So for some of us the solution is to
buy a PC and downgrade the OS- SUCKS. Another example is the GN otocam (WHAT ARE THEY THINKING) or the Medrex Otoscope module

Most HI manf. modules run on W7 and on a 64 bit… But equipment wise we are a bit tight.

The problem with most aids will be the loudspeaker or the microphone. Those are fairly easy to repair because they use similar parts in new aids. Most of my repairs will be replacing those components. Amps and the processing/memory chips are usually not a point of failure. This has been true since the 90s.

It’s not too difficult but it’s mostly a job for a younger guy than I. Steady hands are a must. Older aids in poor condition are harder to fix because the wiring is brittle and much of the repair is reattaching wires that break when you open the aid that you hope won’t break of again. Repairing an expensive aid is about the same as a cheap aid.

I suppose the trouble is that there aren’t many people that repair aids outside of the manufacturer’s facility. In my thinking, an audiologist or dealer that doesn’t have a repair technician is like an automobile dealership without repair facilities. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the current state of the hearing aid industry.

http://www.panasonic.com/business/medicalvideo/hearing-aids/index.asp

Pretty cool stuff!

They do.

However they still use electret condenser mics which deteriorate over time (but don’t distort on high inputs due to the incredibly low mass of the gold coated mylar diaphragms ;)).

Traditionally it’s the receiver that takes the hammering - it has a copper wound coil and some small openings. It faces a life of exposure to possibly 100% humidity, sulphur and salt based solvents. Not really surprising they struggle long term.