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Hearing aids open new adventures for specialist's clients

Batavia native Greg Watson wasn't sure what he might like to do after he landed his bachelor's degree in business administration from SUNY Fredonia State and moved back home.

His mother is a retired nurse, his father a retired liquor salesman. As he filled out applications for more than 200 jobs back in 2003, he saw a classified ad in The Buffalo News for a hearing instrument specialist.

Watson recalled how fascinated he found the hearing department a few years earlier when he'd job shadowed his mom, Elaine, an infectious disease control specialist at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Buffalo.

He's been in the line of work ever since, first at Miracle Ear and, for the last decade, at Beltone Hearing Care Center locations in Orchard Park and his hometown.

"With one parent in the medical field and one in sales, this is kind of in the middle of those things," said Watson, 35, who works three days a week in a McKinley Mall outparcel and two days on Washington Avenue in Batavia.

He and his wife, Jaimee, a claims trainer with Geico, live in Clarence with their children, Celia, 6, and Jack, 4.

It generally takes people six to seven years after they are first evaluated with a hearing loss before they decide to get a hearing aid, Watson said. Research shows that social isolation can come with hearing loss, as well a loss of perception and memory, and increased risk for dementia.

The good news?

"Once someone is fit with a hearing aid, they generally never go back to not hearing," Watson said. "They wear their hearing aids every single day for the rest of their life."

Q. What are the major signs of hearing loss?

When others have to repeat what they've said to you. I have one gentlemen whose grandkids called him "Grandpa What?" Other signs are the television being turned up louder. Someone withdrawing from social environments. Ringing in a person's ear or ears – that's a common sign for people who are younger.

Q. What are the most common hearing issues you see?

The ability to communicate with others. Everybody who comes in here tells me, "I can hear, I just can't understand what's being said." This is caused by many things. Different ear conditions. Loud noise exposure. People who are born with hearing loss. They feel frustrated … I always pride our hearing aids in their ability to work in background situations. If somebody comes in and asks, our hearing aids can separate speech frequency from noise frequency to process the sound differently.

Q. How do you become a hearing instrument specialist?

You have to have at least an associate's degree, apply for a trainee position through New York State and have to be under an audiologist, doctor or a licensed hearing instrument trainer – which I am now as well. You have to be in that position one year before you can take a state credentialing test; it's 100 written questions. You have to pass a practical exam as well to obtain a New York State license. Every two years, that license has to be renewed and you have to carry 20 hours a year of continuing education credits to stay up to date on technology, procedures, rules and regulations. The person in our Amherst office trained under me.

When I first started in the industry in 2003, there weren't even computers in the office. Now, everything is programmed through computer.

Q. How many varieties of hearing aids does Beltone offer?

Greg Watson holds up one of the several types of hearing aids at Belton Hearing Care Center in Orchard Park. Hearing aids have gotten smaller, more inconspicuous and more effective, Watson says.

We have about 15 different models, all sizes, styles. The price difference is the ability to program them. There are no two that are exactly the same.

Q. What are the most popular?

The most popular are hearing aids are in our Trust series. Those are our latest models. They have rechargeable batteries. That's really awesome for people who have dexterity issues. These are also the ones that process the difference between speech and noise the best. It's the best technology out there. It's the way the hearing aids directionalize and process the sound.

About 50 percent of our hearing aids are compatible with iPhone technology. With most iPhones, you can go into settings and there's a hearing devices setting. It runs on Bluetooth ... and you pair it up just like a Bluetooth. There's also what's called Start Live Listen. If you set your phone next to the television or a radio, it'll stream the sound right into the hearing aid.

There's a free app, Beltone Hear Max, that allows you to set your hearing aid for restaurant mode, outdoor mode and other environments. Within each one of those environments, you can make it more clear by touching Speech Clarity. You can raise or lower your volume. You can make adjustments to the sound quality. One of my favorite features is that if you go to My Beltone, there's a "find my hearing aid" command that gives you the GPS coordinates to track it down. For someone that might have a senior moment, it's pretty awesome.

I explain to people that we don't want them getting lost in technology. These are things that add to the benefit of the hearing aid. The primary thing is understanding people. If somebody came in and said, "Greg, I'm 90 years old and just want something for television," they'd be in our Ally series, which is a more basic series. A lot of times somebody just may want a basic hearing aid that they can turn up or turn down. It comes with a larger battery that's easy to handle.

One of the largest misconceptions is that everybody thinks there's only one hearing aid and that's what everybody has. The thing is that it's more lifestyle driven. The more active a person is, the better type of hearing aid that they should be in. The less active, the more quiet environments they spend their time in, the more basic type of hearing aid that person can be fit with.

Q. How long does a hearing aid last?

The average life of a hearing aid is seven to 10 years, as long as they're managed and taken care of. It's not like the hearing aid will break down and stop working. It's generally that there's something much newer in technology that's come out. That's generally when people make a switch or upgrade.

Q. What's the difference in price?

It's anywhere from $500 for a basic single hearing aid up to $3,000 for your most advanced hearing aid out there. The ones with the iPhone technology start at $2,200. All of that is without insurances. As of the first of the year, most major insurances offer some sort of discounting now. That had never existed before. New York State Empire Insurance offers full coverage on hearing aids. Independent Health, BlueCross BlueShield and Univera offer discounts of up to almost 30 percent, depending on the model, the style, the type.

About 90 percent of people who wear hearing aids wear two of them. With Beltone, there's never an additional charge after the cost of the hearing aid. Once you've gotten the hearing aid, we clean it out every four to six months and re-evaluate the hearing once a year. If the ears get any worse, we reset the hearing aid. We want them to last.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlonhealt

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