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Adjusting to Hearing Aids

Realistic Expectations

The success of your hearing rehabilitation program depends on your acceptance of realistic expectations. Although hearing aid technology has greatly improved over the years, the fact still remains that nothing can mimic the human ear. Due to the damage in your ears that is causing the hearing loss, you will never be able to hear as well as a normal listener. Expecting results from your hearing aids that cannot be achieved will only lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. By asking your Audiologist questions and describing your experiences, the optimum performance can be reached to match your expectations. The following are some facts to help form realistic expectations of your hearing aids:

The extent of improvement to your hearing is directly proportional to the severity and the duration of your hearing loss.

  • The more severe the hearing loss the harder it will be for the hearing instruments to restore your hearing to near normal.
  • The longer the duration of your hearing loss the harder it will be for your brain to adjust to the new sounds.

Understanding speech is a brain function and although the hearing aids will give your brain the information it needs to understand speech, it takes training and patience to improve your ability to understand.

Different listening situations will offer different abilities of understanding. Noisy situations are harder to hear conversations even for normal hearing individuals; hearing aids can improve your ability to hear in these situations however will not restore your hearing ability to that of a normal hearing individual.

Many sounds that you will hear will sound different, or more distinct, to you. This is because your loss of hearing, over a long period of time, has trained your brain to accept the slight differences in the sounds you would normally hear. Wearing hearing instruments will bring back the original sounds as they should be heard, although they seem different to you and with time your brain will accept the new changes to these sounds.

Hearing aids should allow you to understand speech better in most situations, than you would without them.

Success Factors

The single biggest determinant of success is your attitude toward your new hearing aids. In the beginning, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to wear them consistently, and work with them in a variety of situations.

However, you should start slowly at first. In fact, you should integrate hearing aids into your life gradually, starting with one or two hours a day. Overexposure to new stimuli can result in fatigue, discomfort and disappointment.

People adjust to their hearing aids at different rates. Some people need a few days to adjust to their hearing aids, most need a few weeks and some may need a few months. Over a period of time you will lengthen the amount of time that you wear the aid. Eventually you will wear the hearing aids most of your waking hours.

There are also physical adjustments to consider. At first, hearing aids may feel funny in your ear. Depending on the style, there will be some part of the aid in your ear or ear canal, which you may find distracting. Minor irritation or inflammation may occur until your ear becomes accustomed to having an object in it. This is usually easily correctable through trimming and polishing by your Audiologist. In fact, many people forget they’re wearing hearing aids once they’re used to them.

Your voice may also sound funny to you when wearing hearing instruments, due to a phenomenon known as occlusion, the result of the blockage of your ear canal. Most new hearing aids are equipped to minimize this problem.

The following are suggestions to help you through the adjustment period:

  • When you first start wearing the hearing instruments, you will suddenly hear sounds you were previously unaware of. Many you will recognize as sounds you used to hear before you had a hearing loss, and others will have to be identified for you. These sounds will seem bothersome at first because you are not used to hearing them. In time, like those with normal hearing, you will unconsciously block out these daily sounds.
  • If the new sound experience is overwhelming, you may want to limit the duration and locations that you wear the hearing instruments in. At first wear the instruments for shorter periods of time and in quieter locations. You can gradually add louder locations and extend your wear time as you get used to the hearing instruments.
  • If you are having difficulty with the hearing instruments, or do not like the sound quality, discuss it with your Audiologist. Chances are there are adjustments that can be made to the instruments to accommodate your complaint.

Don’t get discouraged. It may take time to realise the benefit of your hearing instruments. You have been hearing through a damaged system that has delivered distorted signals to your brain. Now the sounds you are being exposed to are louder and different from what you are used to. In time, your brain will adjust to the new signals it is receiving.

Helpful Steps

  • Use the aids at first in a favorable listening environment (own home environment). Interact with those people you are most familiar with during your first few days.
  • Wear the aids only as long as you are comfortable with them (part time but regularly).
  • Accustom yourself to the use of the aid by listening to only one other person – husband or wife, neighbour or friend.
  • Increase your tolerance for loud sounds. Listen to something read aloud.
  • Gradually extend the number of persons with whom you talk, still within your own home environment.
  • Gradually increase the number of situations in which you use your hearing aid.
  • Do not strain to catch every word. Your brain needs some time to adjust and re-learn how to distinguish the words.
  • Do not be discouraged by the interference of background noises. Your brain needs some time before you can filter-out the competing sounds.

Learning to hear again

When you put on hearing aids for the first time, you’ll begin hearing sounds you haven’t heard in some time. Your brain actually has to re-learn how to hear these sounds, particularly the complex range of frequencies in human speech.

Re-learning takes place in the central auditory nervous system and not in the ear itself. Recent studies suggest that a listener’s ability to comprehend speech may continue to increase over a period of several months when wearing a new amplification system. This process is called acclimatisation and can take some time. It also requires practice. Research suggests that speech comprehension does increase over a period of several months after hearing aids are purchased. With consistent and attentive use, you should be able to hear the sounds you’ve been missing, more easily.

Re-learning to hear is an ongoing process. As you progress, you may need to have your hearing aids fine-tuned for best results.

The following are useful practices, which can help the process of re-learning (it is better to do these only after progressing in the first stages of adjustment):

  1. Practice locating the source of the sound by listening only
  2. Practice learning to discriminate different speech sounds
  3. Increase your tolerance for loud sounds
  4. Practice focusing on speech while filtering out the background noise
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