Hearing aids have a lifespan just like all other electronic devices. Over time, they simply do not work as well as when they were brand new. I would say a typical lifespan of hearing aid would be around 5 years. However, the hearing aid will have to go in for repair before it hits that 5-year mark.
I have seen people wear hearing aids for longer than 5 years, sometimes up to 8 or 9 years however here are some factors to consider.
After 5 years the technology will have changed significantly in hearing aids. Think of it like using a 5-year-old smartphone. Hearing aid manufacturers generally release new products every year or two just like how Apple does with its iPhones. The difference between an iPhone from 5 years ago and the newest iPhone is the same potential of the hearing aids today vs a 5-year-old hearing aid.
Newer, high-level technology really benefits hearing aid users in more complex environments like a restaurant or a church meeting and most patients desire the additional performance of the devices.
Consider the Cost of Repairs
When you purchase a new hearing aid it usually comes with a 2 or 3-year warranty on the product. This usually includes the cost of repairs and reprogramming of the hearing aid in case your hearing loss has shifted. After having fit thousands of pairs of hearing aids, I would guess that a hearing aid goes in for repair about 1-2 times during that warranty.
Once a hearing aid becomes older than 2 years, I would expect it to need to go in for repair about 1 time a year, because the older the aid gets the more frequent repairs to become. Often repair costs can be around $200-$400 per hearing aid.
It does not take long before most people find that replacement is a better option than frequent repairs.
How to get your hearing aid to last longer?
When you purchased your hearing aids, the audiologist should have told you the warranty expiration date. You should mark that date on a calendar or set a reminder on your cell phone. One month prior to that expiration, you need to have both of your hearing aids sent back to the manufacturer for refurbishment. Often, if you report the device as intermittent, they will simply send back brand-new devices instead of attempting to troubleshoot the problem.
By doing this, you get brand new devices at no extra cost which should cut down on the number of future repairs needed. This strategy is very common in the audiology world with most audiologist advising their patients to send hearing aids in for repair/refurbishment immediately preceding the expiration of the warranty.
What would I Personally Do?
I recommend keeping a hearing aid for 4 years and then buying a new set. The older pair is converted to a backup set to be used when the newer set has issues or is being sent back to the manufacturer for repair. By doing this you have a moderately recent pair of backup hearing aids that keeps you more updated with technology changes in the hearing aids.
Why Do Hearing Aids Wear Out So Fast?
People often like to say, a car can last over ten years and high-tech space satellites also have a life expectancy of ten years so why do my hearing aids not last that long? The answer is that hearing aids are built to be very small without redundant systems. The thing about how small a hearing aid is, it is housed in a very thin plastic or acrylic shell, and inside it has tiny computer chips and microphones that barely fit inside of its casing. The hearing aid is not built for strength or durability but to be cosmetically appealing and to deliver the best sound quality.
After you purchase it, the aids are worn around on a human all day being exposed to temperature change, humidity, hair products, and ear wax, and are often dropped or put in a lint-filled pocket. This is a tough environment to keep an electronic device functioning at peak levels.
Hearing aids could be designed to last longer, look at the Pocketalker which comes with a 5-year warranty. Its size is much larger and its durability is much stronger, however, the majority of hearing aid users do not want something worn on their body that is noticeable, and most people value discreteness over durability.
The answer comes down to what the market demands and just look at advertising to see what the market demands. Often, we see advertising that says ‘nearly invisible hearing aids’ but never do we see advertising that says ‘most durable’ hearing aid on the market.
Could we make hearing aids out of metal shells to increase durability? Yes, we actually already do that with the Phonak Titanium CIC instruments but it largely increases the cost of the aid and eliminates all wireless capabilities of the hearing aid reducing the special features that could have been included. So added durability sacrifices clarity of hearing due to the lack of features and thus the Phonak titanium hearing aid serves only a niche market.
Are hearing aids more durable today than they were 5 years ago?
Yes, Manufacturers have actually made a lot of improvements in the repair rates of hearing aids. The biggest issue with repairs is moisture and hearing aids are almost now IP-rated IP68 which means that they are dust-proof and waterproof. To achieve this rating hearing aids are placed under a meter of water for 30 minutes. Then they are removed. Batteries are replaced and wax traps are replaced. Aids are allowed to dry for 30 more minutes and then tested to see if they are back to 100% function (please do not test this at home, I still counsel patients to avoid getting hearing aids wet).
This rigorous test that hearing aids strive to obtain has improved the durability and reliability of where repairs are less often. This saves you time and energy and the hearing aid manufacturers money for not having hearing aids come back in from repair.
A Change of Hearing Can Be A Perceived Hearing Aid Wearing Out Issue
Often hearing loss shifts and people feel that they are not hearing as well as they were when they initially were fit with the hearing aids.
The million-dollar question is which is the blame; the hearing aid or the hearing loss?
The only way to truly know is to have your audiologist recheck your hearing thresholds as well as check the hearing aids to make sure that they are functioning at 100%. That is why most audiologists recommend a hearing exam at least once a year. The big plus of having your hearing retested is that hearing aid settings can be updated so that you can be sure that you are hearing at the optimum level possible.
Our bodies change over time and just like Optometrists recommend a one-year recheck for glasses and contacts, annual hearing tests are helpful to ensure that your hearing is as sharp as possible.
So to come full circle to the original question- do hearing aids wear out? Yes, hearing aids wear out at about the same rate a cell phone wears out. But you can make the hearing aids last twice as long when you send them in for repair right before the warranty expires and keep them clean, and have the reprogrammed annually.