Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Hearing aids these days are powered by either one of two types of batteries: Disposable “button” batteries or rechargeable batteries. For the most part, disposable batteries are still the more common option, though more and more hearing aid manufacturers are making rechargeable hearing aids.
With Americans buying nearly 180 tons of batteries each year, it makes sense for each of us to go rechargeable whenever possible. But does that include using rechargeable hearing aids? That depends, says Tim Cross, a hearing instrument specialist and owner of Earzlink Hearing Care in Hillsboro, Ohio. The focus of buying a hearing aid, he says, should be on the benefits of the instrument itself, not its features.
“Everything else being equal, if you can get the same benefits with a product that is or isn’t rechargeable, rechargeable can be a big advantage. But it isn’t something you get because your friend has it.”
What is a rechargeable hearing aid?
Rechargeable hearing aids have built-in batteries that do not require regular removal, compared to hearing aids with traditional disposable batteries. Instead of removing the batteries themselves, you dock your hearing aids each night on a charging unit, similar to how smartphones recharge.
Can I just switch out the batteries?
Switching to rechargeable hearing aid batteries is more complicated than simply going to the drugstore and purchasing rechargeable button batteries in the correct size. You may be able to find the batteries and a corresponding charging station, but they may not be compatible or reliable with your current hearing aid.
Instead, the best thing you can do is talk to your hearing healthcare professional about purchasing new hearing aids that are already equipped with rechargeable batteries. Keep in mind there won’t be as many choices available to you.
“The vast majority of hearing aids are not designed to be rechargeable as far as original intent by manufacturer,” Cross said.
So how do you decide if rechargeable hearing aids are right for you? Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of rechargeable hearings aids can go a long way to helping you and your hearing care practitioner pick the best style for you.
Advantages of using rechargeable batteries
Long shelf life. Current generations use lithium ion batteries, which can hold a charge for up to 30 hours and last approximately five years before they need to be replaced.
“It’s a far cry better than what they were in the past,” he said. Previous generations used nickel metal hydride batteries, which lasted about one year. Silver metal zinc batteries—the first to power hearing aids—only lasted six months before they needed to be replaced.
Meanwhile, hearing aids with disposable batteries require new batteries every few days to weeks, depending on the hearing aid model.
Safer for kids. Disposable button batteries are extremely dangerous if accidentally swallowed by pets or kids, yet it happens fairly often. Rechargeable hearing aids don’t pose this risk, unless the entire hearing aid is swallowed (which does happen!).
Easier to handle. People who have dexterity issues or those who don’t want to worry about constantly buying and changing batteries might benefit from wearing rechargeable hearing instruments. That’s because disposable batteries tend to be tiny, and the packaging can be difficult to manipulate.
“If peeling the tab off a battery and not dropping it, or being able to get it to fit into the compartment, is difficult for somebody, then rechargeable would be a huge advantage,” Cross said.
A 90-year-old patient of Cross’s found them to be invaluable. “Quite frankly, you could drive down the street and hear her television or pound on the door and she would not hear you,” he said. “She had limited dexterity and sight — and wouldn’t wear hearing aids because she couldn’t change the battery.”
He fit her with rechargeable hearing aids and kept an extra charger in his office so she wouldn’t have to live without her hearing aids if a problem occurred.
“It totally changed her life,” he said, “and gave her family peace of mind.”
Disadvantages of rechargeable batteries
But not everyone is well suited to wear rechargeable hearing technology.
“For the most part, it’s very simple and basic,” Cross said, “but some people might not think beyond the normal routine and process (such as power outages or if the grandkids accidentally unplug the charging unit). Someone with a highly active lifestyle may need immediate access and not have time to recharge,” he added. “In these situations, it’s much easier to just pop in a new set of batteries.”
Other disadvantages include:
- Lack of user control. “In many rechargeable hearing aids, the battery is encased in the instrument and the user cannot remove it themselves,” he said. “If it happens the battery has to be replaced, you usually have a down time where you don’t have your hearing aids. That can be inconvenient because even a loaner (hearing aid) doesn’t have your particular settings.”
- Dependency on a charging unit. “The battery does have to be recharged every single day,” Cross said. “If you interrupt the charge cycle and assume your batteries are charged and fully functional and then get into your day, one of your instruments may stop working. You also have to deal with what happens if you forget your charger, it stops working or the cord goes bad. Most people don’t carry an extra charger with them.”
- Additional cost. Contrary to popular belief, rechargeable hearing aids aren’t any less expensive than their traditional counterparts. Cross said that, although every hearing center sets its own policies, the cost of the charging unit ($250-$300) as well as the cost for replacement batteries ($25-$35) aren’t typically included in the price of the hearing instruments.
- Fewer hearing aid styles to choose from. Most rechargeable hearing aids are worn behind-the-ear, connected to a small speaker that’s worn inside the ear. If you’re interested in smaller models that fit completely within the ear, you likely won’t get to use rechargeable batteries. More: Pros and cons of common hearing aid styles.
Rechargeable hearing aids increasing in popularity
Cross predicts rechargeable hearing aid instruments will become even more commonplace as sound quality, battery efficiency and interchangeability, and cosmetic appeal continue to improve.
“Over 35 years I’ve seen rechargeability come out as a means of drawing people into the hearing aid marketplace,” he said. “It resurfaces every seven years or so as something fresh and new and then it goes away. This last wave has become more of a mainstay. The current generation of technology has come close to meeting consumer requests, that’s why I think it’s going to become normalized moving forward.”
His patients who wear rechargeable hearing aids “like them and are comfortable with them. They got them for a reason,” Cross said. “They were appropriate for them and met the needs that they have.”
Interested in learning more?
Of course, there are plenty of other factors to consider when buying a hearing aid, so it’s important to talk in depth with your hearing care professional about the best hearing aid for you—which may or may not come with rechargeable batteries. Visit Healthy Hearing’s online directory of consumer-reviewed hearing clinics to find a trusted provider near you.