Little is known about quality of life after the use of specific types of hearing aids, so it is difficult to determine whether technologies such as programmable circuits and directional microphones are worth the added expense.
To compare the effectiveness of an assistive listening device, a nonprogrammable nondirectional microphone hearing aid, with that of a programmable directional microphone hearing aid against the absence of amplification.
Randomized controlled trial.
Audiology clinic at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, Wash.
Sixty veterans with bilateral moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss completed the trial. Half the veterans (n = 30) had hearing loss that the Veterans Affairs clinic determined was rated as "service connected," which meant that they were eligible for Veterans Affairs–issued hearing aids.
Veterans with non–service-connected hearing loss, who were ineligible for Veterans Affairs–issued hearing aids, were randomly assigned to no amplification (control arm) or to receive an assistive listening device. Veterans with service-connected loss were randomly assigned to receive either the nonprogrammable hearing aid that is routinely issued ("conventional") or a programmable aid with a directional microphone ("programmable").
Main Outcome Measures
Hearing-related quality of life, self-rated communication ability, adherence to use, and willingness to pay for the amplification devices (measured 3 months after fitting).
Clear distinctions were observed between all 4 arms. The mean improvement in hearing-related quality of life (Hearing Handicap Inventory for the Elderly) scores was small for control patients (2.2 points) and patients who received an assistive listening device (4.4 points), excellent for patients who received a conventional device (17.4 points), and substantial for patients who received a programmable device (31.1 points) (P<.001 by the analysis of variance test). Qualitative analyses of free-text diary entries, self-reported communication ability (Abbreviated Profile of Hearing Aid Benefit) scores, adherence to hearing aid use, and willingness to pay for replacement devices showed similar trends.
A programmable hearing aid with a directional microphone had the highest level of effectiveness in the veteran population. A nonprogrammable hearing aid with an omnidirectional microphone was also effective compared with an assistive listening device or no amplification.