By Wilma Hurwitz
for Montclair Local

Thousands of seniors are in need of hearing aids, but many go without, finding the average cost of $2,500 per device too staggering on a fixed income. Without being able to properly hear the world around them, many seniors choose to stay home, becoming isolated in their homes.

For four years, the New Jersey Hearing Aid Project has been providing free refurbished hearing aids for low-income seniors.

The project helps seniors, 65 years of age or older and with an income of less than $27,189 if single or $33,334 if married, get fitted with free devices.Locally, it is through a partnership of the New Jersey Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DDHH), Montclair State University  Center for Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology and Sertoma/Hearing Charities of America that seniors can get the devices.

“MSU Center for Audiology clinical staff and graduate students evaluate donated hearing aids.

We manage the ‘bank of hearing aids’ and have reached out to audiologists across the state to contribute to this initiative,” said Maris Appelbaum, AuD, CCC-A, Clinical Preceptor and Director of Hearing Aid Services, Supervising Hearing Aid Dispenser at MSU.

The project’s start is credited to David Alexander, Director of the New Jersey Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, who recognized the unaffordability of the devices for many seniors. He worked with Janet Koehnke, PhD, Professor and Chairperson of the Communication Sciences and Disorders at MSU to set monetary guidelines for eligibility.

Hearing aids range from $1,000 to over $4,000 depending on the level of technology. Most people need two hearing aids, with most insurance providers not covering the cost.

Sertoma/Hearing Charities of America refurbishes the hearing aids, while 15 audiologists throughout the state provide screenings.

Locally, The Center for Audiology and Speech Language Pathology at Montclair State University of Montclair and The Hearing Group of West Orange conduct screenings and fit  seniors with hearing devices.

“These audiologists fit the hearing aid to the person’s level of hearing based on ‘best practices’ in the audiology profession,” Koehnke said. “A huge factor in determining the success of the program is based on the assistance we receive from these audiologists.  So far we are delighted by the response we’ve received as audiologists step up to provide hearing health screenings in support of the program.”

Clinical Preceptor at MSU Elena Kagan works directly with eligible patients.

“Hearing loss decreases a patient’s socializing and fosters a feeling of increased isolation. They cannot communicate easily, especially with loved ones. Add to that the financial constraints to obtain quality hearing aids – brand new or refurbished,” Kagan said.

Key issues also taken into account when dealing with hearing loss patients include dexterity and vision.

The program at MSU has also impacted audiology students. “While performing some of the testing and assessing the results, our students are very altruistic. Early in their career development, it’s so rewarding for them to recognize how this NJHAP hearing aid opportunity changes a person’s life,” Appelbaum said.

On Oct. 12, New Jersey Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson recognized and audiologists who have participated in the New Jersey Hearing Aid Project (NJHAP) during the New Jersey Academy of Audiology annual conference at Montclair State University.

“This program has been a great success, providing hundreds of refurbished hearing aids to consumers aged 65 years and older with low-incomes,” Johnson said.

How it works:

  • 65 years of age or older
  • Resident of NJ
  • Physician or licensed audiologist must determine necessity of hearing aid
  • Income less than $26,575 if single and $32,582 if married
  • Not eligible for other sources of hearing aid assistance (e.g., Medicaid)
  • Does not possess a hearing aid

To obtain an application form, contact:

 Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing 800-792-8339