20 Things to Know About Hearing Aids

How do I know it's time to investigate hearing aids?

If your family says you need them... you probably do! Problems usually develop slowly and subtly, hardly noticeable to ourselves. It is normal for people to go through a period of denial about their hearing problems. But, you cannot hide your hearing loss... your loved ones, friends, clients and associates already know you have it!

Are we just addressing the hearing loss?

No, it's about communication. Hearing loss may cause you to give up favorite activities, rather than be embarrassed about a hearing problem. It can contribute to social isolation and avoiding any difficult situations. Remember, a hearing problem is more noticeable than hearing aids.

Am I the only one having these problems?

No, hearing loss is a very common problem affecting nearly 30 million people directly, and countless others indirectly. Most people over age 65 have some hearing loss, and nearly all people over age 80.

Can't I just avoid my problem?

Of course, you can, but it's harder on you. People spend more time and enormous amounts of energy going around their problems than trying to solve them.

Okay, so how do I begin?

Ask your doctor! You are likely to be referred to an audiologists or ear, nose & throat physician. Investigation of hearing loss begins with an examination of your hearing loss with the audiologist. Certain types of hearing losses may indicate a medically treatable cause, for which you'll see the ear, nose & throat doctor.

You mean, there are different kinds of hearing problems?

Yes, and here's the good news: most hearing losses can be helped, medically, surgically, or with hearing aids. In fact hearing aids nowadays are specifically designed for sensorineural or 'nerve loss'.

So, if I can go to the drugstore and buy some reading glasses off the rack, why can't I do that with a hearing aid?

Hearing aids are dispensed by licensed professionals only. Fitting a hearing aid is much more complex than fitting eyeglasses. Ears and eyes work differently. And, similar to dentures, hearing aids are a substitute for a natural function of the body. Just like dentures, or even new shoes, it takes time to get adjusted to new sensations. It doesn't happen overnight.

So how do I get through this adjustment period?

You need, a reliable audiologist like Paula, at our office, who will work with you for several visits during the adjustment period, and will be available for service in the years to come. Avoid getting a hearing aid from firms who only sell one brand of hearing aid. No one brand has devices to suit everyone's needs. You are likely to spend more with one-brand firms than you would for identical or better hearing aids from an audiologist who dispenses and services a variety of brands.

What if it's really not for me, but for my relative?

If it's not for yourself, accompany and assist your loved one going for their appointment. Make sure they've understood what was said, and that the audiologist's recommendations make sense. Offer your loved one plenty of encouragement and support all the way through, from initial consultation through the follow-up and adjustment period.

Can I just come in and ask for the same hearing aids my friend has?

What's good for your neighbor is not necessarily what's good for you. There is no simple way in advance to tell which hearing aids will work best for a given person. We are all individuals with individual hearing patterns and requirements. Considered is your degree of hearing loss, your physical abilities and limitations, as well as those of your ears. This is why devices sold through the mail or over the Internet are likely to be ineffective (or even harmful)!

What about follow-up care?

You won't get it with mail-order hearing aids. It is vitally important to stay in contact with your audiologist during the trial period (and afterwards) if any questions or concerns arise. In fact, you shouldn't hesitate to contact the audiologist who fits your hearing aids - most people require more than one visit for adjustments, fine-tuning and counseling.

Is all this included?

Hearing aids come with a trial period, warranty, and follow-up services. Custom fitting and setting of hearing aids by your audiologist can take a few visits to ensure maximum benefit. You don't buy hearing aids, you purchase a comprehensive plan for hearing improvement, which should include counseling and follow-up care.

So this will restore my hearing, right?

Unfortunately, hearing aids do not cure hearing loss, nor prevent it from getting worse. Hearing aids do improve the sound reaching the ears so that the brain can receive the proper information to do its' job of hearing. At the same time, hearing aids do not cause hearing to get worse.

Are the better hearing aids worth it, then?

The best pair of skis will not make you an Olympic skier. Practice and the right coaching will get you there. Your natural abilities, however, are enhanced by better equipment. Hearing aid technology has improved dramatically over the past few years, especially in the way devices are adjusted to compensate for the natural patterns of hearing loss. The most sophisticated devices now use the same advanced technology as found in the microchips of computers.

Will I hear equally well in all situations?

Noisy environments are tougher to hear in whether you wear hearing aids or not. Hearing aids do not eliminate background noise, but they can help the person with hearing loss to hear well. If you have hearing loss in both ears, most people will need two hearing aids. Noisy environments, in particular, can sound chaotic with only one ear. For certain situations, some people need more than hearing aids - a special adapter or pick-up for the telephone; doorbell and smoke alarm alerting devices; infrared television amplifiers as examples.

How quick is the whole process of adjustment?

It varies quite a bit from person to person. As hearing loss tends to occur gradually, so does readjusting to the world of sound. You may wish to progress from easier to more difficult listening situations as you get used to your hearing aids. Adjusting to hearing aids requires some patience and effort. It takes time to relearn hearing skills, longer for the more difficult situations, such as restaurants or parties. Your expectations must be realistic.

So, I should expect things to sound strange, at first?

Yes, this is quite natural. Higher-pitched sounds of speech, everyday sounds and noises, and your own voice will sound 'funny' or quite strange. However, with repeated exposure, these sounds become quite natural again, although it does take time. Frequent, consistent use of hearing aids is necessary for success. Without daily use, normal sounds in the world around us will always sound funny, and your brain will not be able to interpret them. If you've grown accustomed to living with hearing loss, you will likely find out what the world truly sounds like with hearing aids. Eventually, your brain will re-learn how to filter-out unwanted sounds. It is the brain that does this, not the hearing aids. To do this filtering, the brain requires good quality and complete information. For many people, that means the using hearing aids. Adjusting to the world of sound is like moving into a new neighborhood where the water 'tastes funny'. After a while, the difference is no longer noticeable. The water didn't change, nor did your taste buds. But it is the brain that has become acclimated to the new sensations. Similarly with sounds, the brain will get readjusted to the variety of sounds and noises all around us.

Then hearing aids can... ?

Help you to hear better in most situations, thus improving your ability to participate in and enjoy many of life's activities more fully.

Which means they cannot... ?

Let you hear only what you want to hear (only the brain can do that), nor can hearing aids make already distorted sounds clear and distinct.

And they do this forever?

There is wear and tear on hearing aids. Think of the environment in which they're used - the ear canal - there's humidity, debris, bacteria, earwax. And though the technology does change and improve, it's more likely that your hearing needs, and the shape of your ears and ear canals, will change over time.

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