Thursday, February 5, 2015
As an audiologist, I’ll often have patients tell me that they are ready for hearing aids, but they only want to wear them when they leave the house or when they plan to be around a group of people. I will admit that I do not personally wear hearing aids, so I can’t speak from personal experience on this matter. But I can relate based on my visual impairment. Before I had eye surgery, there would be days when I wouldn’t wear my glasses all day. I didn’t need them to cook, clean, or play with my kids. I did, however, need them to drive. So I’d grab them on the way out the door and wear them for the rest of the day until I took them off for bed.
So I can understand how people with hearing aids might feel the same way. If they are home alone, they may not feel they are missing out on any important sounds, so they don’t put their hearing aids in until they have company or need to go out in public. Unfortunately, the ears don’t work the same way the eyes do. Honestly, I really don’t know how the eyes work. I just know that when I put my glasses on, I could see more clearly, and that made me a happier person and a safer driver. I didn’t have any adjustment period or find anything annoying about how I saw through my glasses.
Unfortunately, it isn’t this easy when it comes to hearing and hearing aids. The challenge is that many people are annoyed by many of the sounds they hear through hearing aids. Yes, the hearing aids help them to hear voices more clearly, which is why they want to wear them when they are out around other people. But hearing aids also make you hear environmental sounds more clearly. Sounds like traffic noise, people talking at a neighboring table, and dishes clanking will all be louder and clearer with hearing aids. They won’t be louder than “normal” but people with hearing loss haven’t had to hear those sounds at a “normal” level for a long time, so to them, the sounds may seem odd or annoying. Their hearing loss has prevented them from hearing some of those sounds, so their brain hasn’t had to work as hard to “tune out” the unwanted sounds. It’s kind of like a muscle getting weak when it hasn’t been used for an extended period of time.
This is why it is much harder for people to adapt to hearing aids when they have waited a long time to do something about it. On the other hand, people who get hearing aids early on, when they first start noticing hearing loss, typically adapt very well to hearing aids. This is also why it is important to wear those hearing aids all day long – even if you are home alone. The brain needs as much input as possible to stay strong and tuned into sounds. The more practice it gets tuning out environmental sounds, the better it gets at focusing on the wanted sounds like speech. When you wear your hearing aids at home alone, you will hear all the household sounds louder. These may include fans, heaters, air conditioners, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, microwave beeps, telephones ringing, etc. If you have the TV or radio on, this will give your brain practice hearing speech and music through your hearing aids. All this sound input is strengthening your brain “muscle” so that when you go out to dinner at night, you won’t suddenly be bombarded by all the noise of the restaurant. Your brain will be prepared because it has been receiving amplified sound input through your hearing aids all day long.
It is also important to wear the hearing aids all day because this helps your ears to adjust to the physical sensation of having the hearing aids in place. This definitely takes some getting used to. If you have pain, your hearing aids aren’t fitting correctly and you need to visit your hearing care provider. But if you just aren’t used to having something in your ear, then only consistent use will help your ears adapt to this new sensation. If you wait and put the hearing aids in right before going out, not only will your brain be overwhelmed by the sudden influx of amplified sound, but your ears will be bothered by this new physical sensation and you may be tempted to take the hearing aids out halfway through dinner. If you do that, you’ve just wasted your time and money on something that really could have helped you immensely – IF you’d just given your ears and brain a fighting chance and worn the hearing aids all day long!
Dr. Jessen is an audiologist in Littleton, Colorado. She is the author of Frustrated by Hearing Loss? 5 Keys to Communication Success, a helpful handbook of real-life solutions for those impacted by hearing loss. Her book can be ordered through Amazon in digital or print format. Learn how to get her book for free by visiting her website at www.CutToTheChaseCommunication.com.