Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that vowed to deliver instantaneous and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic ailments?
Well, you won’t see much of that advertising anymore; in 2008, the creators of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to reimburse customers a maximum of $87 million as a result of misleading and fraudulent advertising.1
The issue had to do with making health claims that were not supported by any scientific confirmation. In fact, strong evidence was there to show that the magnetic wristbands had NO influence on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the developer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2
The wishful thinking fallacy
Fine, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t function (above the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling extraordinarily well. What gives?
Without diving into the depths of human psychology, the simple response is that we have a strong propensity to believe in the things that seem to make our lives better and easier.
On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that wearing a $50 bracelet will eradicate your pain and that you don’t have to bother with expensive medical and surgical treatments.
If, for instance, you happen to suffer from chronic arthritis in your knee, which solution sounds more appealing?
a. Booking surgery for a total knee replacement
b. Traveling to the mall to pick up a magnetized bracelet
Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a chance. You already want to trust that the bracelet will do the job, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from having seen other people wearing them.
But it is precisely this natural instinct, combined with the tendency to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.
If it sounds too good to be true…
Bearing in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which alternative sounds more attractive?
a. Arranging an appointment with a hearing professional and getting professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Ordering an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the internet for 20 bucks
Much like the magnetic bracelet seems much more attractive than a visit to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems much more appealing than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
However, as with the magnetized wristbands, 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 deliver 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, so does 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:
- How well do they deliver the results?
- For which type of individual do they work best?
These are precisely the questions that the FDA answered when it released its recommendations on the distinction 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 other hand, 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 difference is clear, it’s simple for PSAP producers and sellers to avoid the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For instance, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This promise is obscure enough to skirt the issue completely without having to describe exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.
You get what you pay for
As outlined by by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices ideal for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you are interested to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to far off conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideal for you.
If you have hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more expensive, hearing aids possess the power and features needed to address hearing loss. The following are a few of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:
- Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have trouble hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t make it easy for you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
- Hearing aids have built in 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 various features that minimize background noise, provide for phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not usually come with any of these features.
- Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and are custom-molded for optimum comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are ordinarily one-size-fits-all.
Seek the help of a hearing professional
If you suspect you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-cost PSAPs; instead, book a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely appraise your hearing loss and will ensure that you receive the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So while the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this situation you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is worth the work.