For many people, adjusting to the idea of having a hearing loss and using hearing aids may be overwhelming. Some opt to do nothing and don’t realize the toll it is taking on them, their family members, and those around them who are trying to compensate for their communication difficulties. While some recognize their frustration and seek help right away, many and most do not.
People generally live with hearing loss for five or more years before they do anything about it, if they do anything at all. This can lead to isolation, frustration, depression, and can even permanently damage relationships.
Upon diagnosis, you must make some decisions, which can be daunting. Often our experiences impact our decisions. We all have known someone who purchased hearing aids and still couldn’t understand what was being said—or we’ve been annoyed when someone’s hearing aids emitted a high pitched “eeeeeeeeee.”
Positive outcomes and patient satisfaction with amplification are on the rise. First, motivation is the key to success. I tell patients, “If you want to find a reason not to use amplification, you will find one (or at least an excuse). If you are getting hearing aids just to please someone else, don’t waste your money or your time. If you are ready for success, the technology is certainly better than it has ever been to achieve that success.
A frequent question I hear is “Can I just get by with one?” This reasoning comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it’s horror stories from others influencing the situation, and sometimes it’s just not quite being convinced there will be substantial benefit from using hearing aids. If you have hearing loss in both ears, you should have two hearing aids. We have two ears and they work together. As sound travels up the auditory pathway to the brain, it integrates to allow us to better locate where sound is coming from. This integration also improves our ability to understand speech information, particularly in noise. If you wear just one hearing aid, you are depriving the unaided ear. The hearing nerve will deteriorate more rapidly on an unaided ear just as a muscle that goes unused.
You must rely on professionals to provide you with the honest information you need, in an area where information and product promotion are seemingly endless! I find patients often come in with preconceived ideas: “If I have to have hearing aids, I want [a particular style]”…. or “the one my neighbor has” or “one that doesn’t show!” We all want to be comfortable with our decisions, so you must have good communication with your hearing care professional and let him or her educate you on what style is best for you. Depending on the type and severity of the hearing loss, you may have many style choices; while in other cases one particular style may best suit your needs.
I realize good communication sounds impossible when you are struggling with hearing loss! However the relationship with your audiologist is very important because it will affect your quality of life. My job is to tell my patients (and hopefully family members) what they NEED to hear, not always what they want to hear. Trust is a must! As part of your visit, you will have a thorough assessment of your hearing—a determination of the type and severity of the hearing loss, as well as an assessment of word recognition or speech understanding. There should also be a determination of any cognitive and/ or dexterity limitations. Other important issues to consider are recruitment (or the abnormal sensitivity to loud sounds), cerumen management (problems with wax building up), and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Making an informed decision about your hearing needs is not just about cost—I cannot emphasize that enough. Yes, hearing aids are expensive, but this is money well spent for someone who has made the investment with good quality outcomes. Certainly budgetary constraints must be considered to create a plan for rehabilitation, and community resources are available for those in financial need.
When patients opt for early intervention, the results are far more positive. The transition into amplification becomes much easier because the younger brain responds more quickly to new auditory stimulation. We see evidence of this in children and young people. When someone has had hearing loss for a number of years without seeking assistance, the transition is more challenging because the brain has quite literally been deprived of sound for a number of years. Also, consider that as we age change becomes more difficult.
One of the most important aspects of what I do is provide patients with realistic expectations. In some cases I may fit someone with poor speech understanding, and the patient may be pleased with the outcome because he/she could not otherwise communicate without this amplification. However, family members may remain frustrated because they want the patient to have “normal hearing” again. Unfortunately, with a permanent hearing loss the patient cannot have “normal hearing” again.
I encourage my patients to bring family members with them. Then I can educate everyone involved about having some good realistic expectations. I want them to leave the office feeling optimistic about what is to come later with a fitting, because they are armed with the proper information. My goal is to help them understand not just the limitations of hearing loss, but also the benefits of using strategies coupled with amplification and any necessary assistive listening devices to improve communication and safety.
Lastly, follow up care. It is important that you go back for regular follow-up visits for cleaning and service because as a hearing aid ages, the receiver and microphone(s) have a tendency to break down from moisture, wax, dry skin, or dust in the air. When components break down, the hearing aid either won’t work properly or may not work at all. Manufacturers suggest life expectancy for hearing aids is three to five years. That can be extended if the patient takes good care of them and as long as they continue to perform well. Hearing loss generally gets worse mover time, and that means that a patient’s amplification needs will change as well. Sometimes decreases in speech processing over time may warrant new and improved technology, but these are all decisions that can be made with a trusted hearing care provider.
In closing, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of good follow up care. If you are not satisfied or are struggling with your hearing aids, or perhaps your communication abilities have diminished over time, PLEASE seek help. Sometimes, it is a simple adjustment that can make a world of difference. Don’t give up! We are all in this together!