by Dr. Sam Kelso, Au.D.
Our ability to hear is not the same as our ability to understand. Hearing is a function of the ear. Speech understanding is a function of the brain. The ear collects sound and transmits it to the brain. The brain translates what the ears have collected into something that it can understand. If hearing loss prevents the ear from picking up the sounds of speech then the amount of information that the brain has to work with becomes limited and speech understanding suffers. If this goes unchecked for many years the brain effectively forgets how to process speech efficiently. It’s a case of use it or lose it and why early intervention with properly fitted hearing aids is so important.
There are two primary components of speech, volume and clarity. The volume of speech becomes vowel sounds that we make with our vocal cords. The clarity of speech comes from consonant sounds that are produced with the lips and teeth. If high frequency hearing loss prevents us from hearing the soft sounds at the beginning of a word and we only hear the loud vowel sounds, then we don’t know if the person speaking said, Hat, Cat, or Sat. We just hear, “at” and accuse the speaker of mumbling. This seems worse in a noisy place like a restaurant.
Properly programmed hearing aids used on a regular basis can provide improvement in not only hearing but understanding as well. Research shows that most people with hearing loss wait seven years between the time that they first start having problems and the time that they get a hearing test. In this time the brain is losing practice at understanding. If the hearing loss is too severe and goes on for too long there is always a chance that it cannot be improved, but almost always, patients who choose to correct their hearing loss sooner rather than later, and who wear their hearing aids often will hear and understand speech much better.
An accurate examination can reveal exactly where the deficit lies along the spectrum of speech sounds, and which type of hearing aid circuitry and programming will best help the patient regain the ability to understand speech more clearly.
“I hear but I don’t understand.” “People just mumble when they talk.” There is a solution to this lack of understanding. The first step is getting an examination, preferably in a medical clinic that specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the ear and hearing. Hearing health is an important aspect of our daily lives and poor hearing has been scientifically linked to numerous negative health consequences ranging from depression to dementia.
Our in-house data of thousands of patients reveals that following a 30 day trial of today’s smart technology hearing aids, 97% of users experience enough benefit to want to keep using their devices. When will you decide that it’s time to start understanding better?