Next month, Top Quality Hearing Aid Center in Redwood celebrates its 25th anniversary. However, owner Gene Swede has been helping clients to hear better longer than that. “I’ve been doing this for 28 years,” he said last week. “The first three years I lived in Mankato, and Redwood Falls was part of the area I took care of. When I opened this business, I already had many clients here.” Swede was one of the first hearing health care providers in the state to become certified through the Minnesota Department of Health. In part because the population is aging, demand for Swede’s services has continued to increase. “The average age of the first-time hearing aid user is dropping,” said Swede. “I’ve been getting 45 to 50 year old clients coming in left and right. I have hearing aid users in their 20s, and quite a few over 100 years old.” The majority of Swede’s time is spent performing hearing tests, and focusing on fitting, adjusting, and maintaining hearing aids. “I refer patients to doctors for medical conditions,” he said. Although he has clients as far away as St. Cloud and Mankato, Swede estimates most of his clients are within a 50 mile range. “I schedule monthly visits in the surrounding communities,” he said. Swede said there are three things most clients focus on when considering whether to get a hearing aid: • Price: “I have the lowest available on top of the line products because I don’t have a sales force -- I’m an independent office,” Swede said. “Overhead in Redwood Falls is lower, and I guarantee to beat anyone’s legitimate written price by 15 percent.” • Product: “There are only six major manufacturers of hearing aids left, worldwide,” Swede said. “Of those, only one is American-owned and operated: Starkey Labs, in the Twin Cities. I get the majority of my products from them.” • Person: “Hearing aids must be regularly maintained by a professional,” said Swede. “I have the only full-time office in Redwood Falls, and I personally clean, check, and reprogram for free for the lifetime of the hearing aids.” When Swede started, all hearing aids were analog, with accompanying disadvantages. “The analog models had a lot of problems with feedback and whistling,” he said. “Now we have programmable digital models with a wide variety of adjustment options, such as background noise filters, and anti-feedback circuitry.” Another improvement comes from the fact so many sounds today are being broadcast electronically rather than going through the airwaves. “The newer hearing aids are starting to access the sound source directly,” Swede said. “Today, sounds from televisions and cell phones can be transmitted directly into the hearing aid. In churches that have speaker systems, (clients) can access the sound system directly.” Another big improvement: hearing aids today are far more comfortable. “Hearing aids have become so small and discreet, you have no idea how many people are wearing them today,” Swede said.