Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that vowed to supply instant and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic diseases?
Well, you won’t see much of that advertising anymore; in 2008, the creators of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to repay customers a maximum of $87 million due to misleading and fraudulent advertising.1
The issue had to do with making health claims that were not backed by any scientific facts. For that matter, strong evidence was there 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 show results (outside of the placebo effect), yet they sold extremely well. What gives?
Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the quick answer is that we have a powerful disposition to believe in the things that seem to make our lives better and more convenient.
On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that donning a $50 wristband will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to bother with expensive medical and surgical procedures.
If, for instance, you happen to struggle with chronic arthritis in your knee, which approach seems more attractive?
a. Arranging surgery for a total knee replacement
b. Traveling to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet
Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a shot. You already desire to believe that the bracelet will deliver the results, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from witnessing other people donning them.
But it is specifically this natural instinct, together with the tendency 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 having difficulties from hearing loss; which decision sounds more appealing?
a. Arranging an appointment with a hearing professional and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Purchasing an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the web 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 to be much more appealing than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
However, 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 deliver results.
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 receive sound and make it louder. Viewed 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 function?
- For which type of individual do they function best?
These are exactly the questions that the FDA addressed when it issued its guidance on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.
As stated by the FDA, hearing aids are defined 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
Quite the opposite, 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 manufacturers and sellers to circumvent the distinction by simply not discussing it. For instance, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This assertion is vague enough to avoid the matter entirely without having to define exactly what the catch phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.
You get what you pay for
As outlined by by the FDA, PSAPs are simple amplification devices suitable for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you wish to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to distant conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideally suited for you.
If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. Although more costly, hearing aids possess the power and features necessary to address hearing loss. Here 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 permit you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
- Hearing aids come with integrated noise minimization and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
- Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
- Hearing aids contain several features and functions that block out background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not usually come with any of these features.
- Hearing aids come in several styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are usually one-size-fits-all.
Seek the help of a hearing professional
If you believe that you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-cost PSAPs; instead, schedule a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely quantify your hearing loss and will make sure that you receive the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So although the low-cost PSAPs are enticing, in this situation you should go with your better judgment and seek expert help. Your hearing is well worth the work.