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McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic bracelets that vowed to deliver instantaneous and significant pain relief from arthritis and other chronic diseases?

Well, you won’t find much of that marketing anymore; in 2008, the manufacturers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally mandated to give back customers a maximum of $87 million due to deceptive and fraudulent advertising.1

The issue had to do with rendering health claims that were not supported by any scientific evidence. In fact, powerful research existed to suggest that the magnetic wristbands had NO impact on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the manufacturer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Okay, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t function (beyond the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling extremely well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the easy answer is that we have a powerful tendency to believe in the things that seem to make our lives better and easier.

On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that donning a $50 wristband will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to bother with high priced medical and surgical treatments.

If, for example, you happen to struggle with chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision sounds more appealing?

        a. Arranging surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Traveling to the mall to pick up a magnetic bracelet

Your instinct is to give the bracelet a try. You already desire to trust that the bracelet will deliver the results, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from seeing other people wearing them.

But it is exactly this natural tendency, along with the inclination to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Keeping in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which solution sounds more attractive?

       a. Booking an appointment with a hearing practitioner and purchasing professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier over the internet for 20 bucks

Much like the magnetized bracelet seems much more desirable than a trip to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems much more attractive than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

But unfortunately, as with the magnetized bracelets, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.

The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers

Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not suggesting that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t work.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do give good results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers come with a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that detect sound and make it louder. Reviewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work fine — and for that matter, the same is true for the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.

But when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:

  1. How well do they function?
  2. For which type of person do they function best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA answered when it posted its guidelines on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As outlined by the FDA, hearing aids are classified as “any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” (21 CFR 801.420)3

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Although the distinction is clear, it’s simple for PSAP producers and sellers to circumvent the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For example, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This statement is obscure enough to skirt the matter completely without having to define exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As reported by by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices ideal for those with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you want to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to faraway conversations, then a $20 PSAP is well suited for you.

If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. While more expensive, hearing aids possess the power and features necessary to address hearing loss. The following are some of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:

  • Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have difficulty hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t make it possible for you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids have integrated noise reduction and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain multiple features and functions that block out background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically possess any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are usually one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you believe you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-cost PSAPs; instead, set up an appointment with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely quantify your hearing loss and will ensure that you get the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this case you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional assistance. Your hearing is worth the effort.