Hearing aids belong in your ears, not in a drawer!

By: Dr. Lisa D. Cahill, Ph.D.

The impact of hearing loss reaches well beyond the affected individual.  Untreated hearing loss has a significant effect on the entire family and social support system, both physically and psychologically.  The person with the hearing loss is typically the last person to realize this impact.  A common scenario in the office of a hearing practitioner is the new user who is following advice, or the begging and pleading, of a loved one to obtain help for a hearing loss.  A guaranteed unsuccessful hearing aid fitting is one in which the user is not completely committed to the process and motivated to adjust to a new way of listening.

An individual who feels pressured to pursue a hearing aid fitting, but is not emotionally and mentally prepared to take this leap, may decide to enter a costly rehabilitative venture without full intentions of following through with the efforts required to adjust to hearing aids.  Many prospective hearing aid candidates express a legitimate fear that they may invest thousands of dollars into a product they won’t use.  This fear is supported by the statistics: more than 39% of hearing aid consumers report inconsistent use or even total non-use of their purchased hearing instruments (AARP/ASHA, 2011). 

Remediation of hearing loss with hearing aids is a very different process than simply putting on a pair of eyeglasses for vision correction.  Hearing is a sensory modality that involves a number of cognitive and attentional processes, and requires integration of active responses from several areas of the brain in order to detect, perceive, discriminate, and interpret the incoming sounds.  If you consider the brain as neurological “muscle” that has been dormant and in a state of disuse, in some cases for a very prolonged period of time, it is easy to understand why suddenly turning up the volume with hearing aids would present perceptual challenges.  It is akin to expecting a person on long-term bed rest to get up and spontaneously start a high impact physical workout without a struggle.

Individual differences such as personality type and adaptability can influence, facilitate or deter the rehabilitative process.  Accepting a hearing loss takes time and follows a grieving pattern similar to the five stages of grief (Kubler-Ross, 1969).  A person must reach the acceptance phase before success with a hearing aid fitting can be possible.  Even at this point, a great deal of investment must be made on behalf of the patient and family for a full adjustment to a new way of listening can occur.  Yes, the family and friends carry some of the responsibility too! Learning new communication strategies for your hearing impaired loved one is integral to the process.

A high quality hearing aid provider will offer an extensive long -term aural rehabilitation program involving patient and family as part of the hearing aid investment.  This program should include components of education, personal action, and follow up.  It should be noted that all three of these components require significant effort from three sources: patient, practitioner, and family.  Education will include training on communication strategies and learning appropriate expectations of your hearing aids.  Personal action requires the patient to take responsibility for their hearing loss and make tangible steps towards remediation.  Follow up involves a time commitment of returning to the hearing aid provider regularly for consistent routine care and maintenance. 

Many excellent hearing aid practitioners are well prepared to assist people with hearing loss through the process of accommodating to hearing aid amplification, but the primary responsibility for taking action and making a commitment is the patient. It is crucial to make a conscious decision to truly invest yourself in the persistent daily use of the hearing aids, understanding the issues and challenges involved, and to be gentle and understanding with yourself during this process.  Most importantly, the new hearing aid user must visit their hearing aid provider for assistance when things are not going as well as planned. While it is not possible for hearing aids to “fix” a hearing problem, it is possible to get the maximum potential benefit with the proper effort and pursuit of a better listening experience!

References:

ASHA/AARP (2011). National Poll on Hearing Health.  Crux Research, Inc. https://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/AARP-ASHA-National-Hearing-Health-Poll.pdf

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth (1969). On Death and Dying. Routledge, ISBN 0-415-04015-9.