Friday, July 18, 2008

Common Misconceptions about Hearing Aids

Many people seem to think that hearing aids are like eyeglasses - that by wearing hearing aids I can hear what I couldn't hear before in pretty much the same way that my eyeglasses and contacts correct my vision. Well, that's not quite right. I've learned that my hearing aids don't allow me to hear the high pitched sounds that I've lost. What they actually do is boost the loudness of sounds at the edge of my hearing loss. The best analogy I've come up with to describe this is to imagine looking at a painting with some parts of the picture blotted out and some parts blurred. With hearing aids, the painting as I perceive it still appears with missing parts of the picture but the blurry parts have become sharper and more recognizable. Does that make sense to you?

Another misconception people have is that I can control the volume of my hearing aids. Well, I can but not in the way that they're meaning. As mentioned previously I have 3 settings for my hearing aids. That does allow for a bit of control. However I can't "dial up" the volume to focus better on someone's voice speaking to me or even as some imagine to be able to eavesdrop on someone else's conversation. Hearing aids pick up on all the surrounding noise not on a single sound of my choosing. My best option for hearing better is to move closer to a speaker or to move the conversation into a quieter area altogether. In the past hearing aids had manual volume controls but today's hearing aids are digital which means they are programmed to automatically adjust to the noise levels in the environment. Hearing people's brains have long ago learned to filter out background noise that is distracting. Those who are new to hearing aids like me have to learn that skill all over again.


Aaron said...

I couldnt agree more! My "ears" certainly do not restore my hearing to what an average person hears, and it is frustrating that people dont understand that being able to "hear" does not equate to being able to "understand". My one ear has lots of distortion, so amplifying things doesnt always help.

I will say that my current aids are controlled by my watch (phonak claro with watch pilot 2) and it is wonderful being able to boost my volume in addition to changing programs. If I bump up to my highest volume I am certainly in eavesdropping territory in the absence of background noise.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Aaron,
Thanks for stopping by my blog. That's interesting that your watch controls your hearing aids. It seems like something Q would invent for James Bond if he needed HAs. *smile* There are certainly occasions when it would be nice to have the ability to boost volume.
I enjoyed reading your blog as well! Aaron's blog can be found here.

(e said...

I could not agree more. People will sometimes tell me, "But, you have your hearing aid on, how are you having trouble hearing me?" I have to remind them that my hearing aid does not "fix" my hearing. It is not like wearing glasses.


HOH Canadian said...

It's so great to read your comments about hearing aids. I tell people the same's not like wearing prescription glasses. It does not restore hearing to the equivalent of 20/20 sight. It's like wearing eyeglasses that make the fuzzy images brighter (louder) and pinker (sound distortion) a little sharper but still fuzzy.

Funny, the hearing aid technician and my audiologist did not tell me that when I got my first pair of hearing aids. The technician fitted me then sent me on my way, telling me that, in time, my brain would adjust. I assumed by adjust he meant eventually I would hear normally again. So did my husband, after a year he was getting a little irked with me because I still had so much trouble hearing. He figured that I was not going back to the specialist often enough, that I wasn't explaining clearly enough what was wrong with my aids, and that I needed to get better aids. It wasn't until about 3 years later - when I made an appointment with the Canadian Hearing Society to talk to a counsellor, that I finally learned that I was never going to hear normally again. She told me that my HA experience i.e. frustration was actually quite normal.

Now when friends tell me they want their elderly mother or father to get hearing aids because they can't hear from another room, I tell them that hearing aids won't make it possible for them to hear from around a wall. You will still need to go to them, you will still need to face them so they can read your facial expressions, they will still have trouble when there's background noise (tv, radio, restaurant, party, etc.).

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thank you so much for your comment, HOH Canadian. Just this week I had a coworker ask me in a condescending way "Do you have your hearing aids on?" when I had no clue what she said while turned away from me. When I said yes, she snorted in derision. I then said, "I'm not hearing as well because of my cold and it helps when people face me." I realize people don't understand the limitations of hearing aids, but I thought she was rather rude in that situation.
I think that is very useful that you explain to people that hearing aids won't cure a hearing loss.