By Dr. Sam Kelso, Au.D.
You’ve finally decided that it’s time to get hearing aids, or maybe you just recently got your first pair but aren’t quite sure about what to expect. Hopefully your doctor gave you some tips for realistic expectations and you’re moving along without a hitch. I hope that this short article will inform you about what to expect and/or motivate you to seek a diagnosis and treatment for your hearing loss. I’ve written in this space on prior occasions that hearing sounds and understanding speech are different. Hearing is the ability of your ears to detect the presence of a sound while understanding is the ability of your brain to formulate those sounds into something that is meaningful. The primary complaint of all patients with sensory neural hearing loss is. “I hear but I can’t understand”. The brain must be constantly stimulated to process sound and ironically it is our ability to ignore unwanted sounds that help us hear better in noisy places. In order to begin to hear better, new hearing aid users must learn to filter out what they don’t want to hear the same way that they did when their hearing was normal. People with normal hearing have the ability to do this and don’t even think about it. No hearing aid can distinguish between what you want to hear and don’t want to hear as well as your brain can. The longer you go without hearing well the harder it is for your brain to relearn to understand speech in the presence of other noises. We can all get used to things to the point where we ignore them. If you were to move in to a house close to the railroad tracks, you might not sleep for weeks, or even a few months because you would be so aware of the trains going by. After several years someone might ask you, “How can you stand that?” and your response would be, “Stand what?” The train didn’t get quieter, but you became so used to it that your brain learned to ignore it and it no longer interferes with your normal activity or sleep. The more that you wear your new hearing aids the more sound you will be hearing, and your brain learns to better sort out things that are not important so that it can focus on the sounds of voices that keep you engaged in the conversation.
Getting used to your hearing aids should only take a couple of weeks and most patients tell me that they don’t even know they are wearing them after a few days. I generally tell a patient that they should expect a 75-80% improvement in their ability to understand. This is meant to imply that you will hear much better but can sometimes miss what was said.
It helps to be self-motivated and stay positive about hearing and understanding better. Hearing aids have improved dramatically in the past few years but more importantly those improvements have helped patients regain much of their speech understanding that was once lost to them. They can help you too!