Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that vowed to deliver instant and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic diseases?
Well, you won’t see much of that promoting anymore; in 2008, the developers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to return customers a maximum of $87 million as a result of deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1
The issue had to do with making health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific evidence. In fact, strong evidence existed to reveal that the magnetized bracelets 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
Ok, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (above the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling amazingly well. What gives?
Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the easy response is that we have a strong propensity to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and more convenient.
On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that sporting a $50 bracelet will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to bother with high-cost medical and surgical procedures.
If, for instance, you happen to suffer the pain of chronic arthritis in your knee, which approach seems more attractive?
a. Booking surgery for a complete knee replacement
b. Going to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet
Your instinct is to give the bracelet a shot. You already want to believe that the bracelet will work, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from spotting other people using them.
But it is exactly this natural tendency, 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…
Keeping in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which alternative sounds more attractive?
a. Scheduling an appointment with a hearing specialist and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the internet for 20 dollars
Much like the magnetic bracelet seems much more appealing than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems much more desirable than a visit 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 impression, I’m not implying that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t function.
On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do deliver results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that capture 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:
- How well do they function?
- For which type of people do they function best?
These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it presented its advice on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.
As reported 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.”
Even though the distinction is clear, it’s simple for PSAP producers and retailers to get around the distinction by simply not mentioning it. For instance, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This assertion is imprecise enough to skirt the matter entirely without having to define exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.
You get what you pay for
As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices designed for those with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you are looking to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to remote conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.
If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. Although more expensive, hearing aids have the power and features required to correct 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 trouble hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t enable 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 functions, while PSAPs do not.
- Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
- Hearing aids contain numerous features and functions that minimize background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not usually have any of these features.
- Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are generally one-size-fits-all.
Seek the help of a hearing professional
If you suspect you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-cost PSAPs; rather, set up an appointment with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will make sure that you receive the best hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this instance you should listen to your better judgment and seek expert assistance. Your hearing is well worth the effort.
- Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
- Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products