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Are You Hearing Challenged?
Penny Allen, Washington State Chapter Coordinator
Self Help for Hard of Hearing People
you’ll get fed up with everyone nagging you to get your hearing checked
and do something about it. Hopefully you’ll do it before you create
worse problems than nagging. Untreated hearing loss results
in marital conflicts, anger, resentment, isolation, depression…the
list goes on. If you hear people talking but don’t understand
what they’re saying, that’s often your first indication of a hearing
should make an appointment to see an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist),
because your family physician is not trained in this area.
An ENT will want to rule out any medical problem, like a tumor. Sometimes
it’s a simple matter of wax blockage in the ear (but don’t count on
it). Most likely you’ll be astounded to learn that he can’t
do anything about your hearing loss or even tell you why you have
it. He will probably smile, shake your hand, and matter-of-factly
leave you with these four crushing words, “You need hearing aids.”
Just remember—it’s not terminal.
ENT will refer you to an audiologist, who will seat you in a soundproof
booth and test your ability to recognize everyday words at different
volumes, as well as to hear tones at varying frequencies. The results
are recorded on a chart called an audiogram, which gives a “picture”
of your hearing and helps to determine what kind of hearing loss you
have. Frequently a first audiogram will show a mild hearing
loss. This is not a time to jump up and down with joy and forget
the whole thing. Being told you have a mild hearing loss is
akin to your dental hygienist telling you that you have periodontal
disease. Do something about it right away! The people who have
the most trouble adjusting to hearing aids are the ones who wait the
longest before wearing them. The longer you wait, the
longer it will take to retrain your brain to understand—and yes, it
really has a lot to do with the brain.
you buy hearing aids?
an ENT will refer you to an audiologist, you can also buy hearing
aids from a hearing aid dispenser. An audiologist is a Masters or
PhD level professional who is certified by the American Speech-Language
and Hearing Association in evaluation, rehabilitation and diagnosis
of hearing loss and hearing aid dispensing. A hearing aid dispenser,
sometimes called a hearing instrument specialist, is state certified
through a series of classes to provide hearing testing and hearing
aid dispensing. The distinction doesn’t necessarily dictate
the price, however. This is one product where prices vary widely
for no apparent reason—even in the same town. For purposes of this
article, I will refer to either person as a “provider.”
want to purchase your hearing aids from someone who is reputable—possibly
a person who is recommended by the ENT, or better yet, by someone
else you know who wears hearing aids and is satisfied. Forget shopping
mail order, because of some serious potential problems and lack of
follow-up service. Mail order sales of hearing aids are illegal in
our state anyway. I recommend not doing business with anyone
selling only one brand of hearing aid, even if it’s a great hearing
aid. No single hearing aid is suitable for all types of hearing
loss, and you’re taking potluck that it will work for you. A good
business will have several makes and models from which to choose and
will provide full aftercare service. Never purchase hearing aids without
first having an audiogram.
hearing aids better?
Hearing aids produced more than six or seven years old amplified all
sounds equally and were no help at all in noisy environments. Newer
technology allows different sounds to be amplified separately, and
loud sounds can even be suppressed, resulting in much better comprehension.
Hearing aids today can have multiple programs, multiple microphones,
and remote controls. Unless you’ve had your head in the sand,
you’ve probably heard all the hoopla by now about the new 100% digital
aids. Digital aids are touted to provide superior sound quality
and much finer tuning to your individual hearing loss.
How do you
know what to buy?
simply have to rely on the expertise of your provider to help you
choose the best hearing aids for your particular hearing loss and
lifestyle at a price you can live with. However, based upon
my own experience and my work with other hard of hearing people, I
would like to make some suggestions. I don’t believe you need
to get the most expensive hearing aids on the market in order to hear
better, but I do believe you should try to do better than conventional
aids. Although digital aids are the latest rage, people with
severe to profound hearing loss or poor speech discrimination may
not be able to tell the difference in sound quality and may do just
as well with high quality analog aids (which are also less expensive).
Studies have shown that multi-microphone aids provide better comprehension
in noisy situations, as opposed to single-microphone aids. I
can attest to that, and this is one feature I wouldn’t want to be
without. I also wouldn’t want to be without a strong telecoil.
Many people are not even told about a telecoil, or else they’re told
that they don’t need to worry about it. If you have more than a mild
hearing loss, you should insist upon a strong telecoil. You
will hear better on the telephone and will be able to access assistive
listening devices. There is also some controversy about the use of
a volume control. For the most part, this is not a standard
feature of the all-digital aids. I, personally, can’t
imagine not having a volume control, and I believe it is important
for anyone with a severe to profound hearing loss.
a trial period?
provider is required by law to issue a purchase agreement or contract
for your hearing aids. It should contain all conditions of the transaction,
and specify a length of time you can try your hearing aids before
you become the permanent owner. It should inform you of your
rights to cancellation and refund. It should include your warranty,
which is your basic agreement with the manufacturer, and is also be
backed by the provider. It should spell out what free services will
be provided and for how long. You will have at least a 30-day trial
period on your hearing aids. This is really not a trial to decide
whether or not you need hearing aids—your audiogram already determined
that. It’s a trial to confirm or deny that these specific aids
are right for you. You need to work hard with your provider
to get you “up and running” so you can make an informed decision on
whether they are the hearing aids you want to live with. If
you don’t, you may get stuck with aids that don’t meet your needs.
During this time you will also want to develop a good rapport with
your provider. If you don’t feel a “connection”—for whatever
reason—give back the hearing aids, go to someone else, and start over.
You want someone working with you who is caring, treats you with dignity
and respect, and listens to your concerns about any hearing-related
problems. You are dealing with far more important issues than simply
buying hearing aids.
rarely are hearing aids optimally adjusted the first fitting, or the
second, or even the third. Often the earmolds are too tight
and hurt, or they’re too loose and you experience feedback (squealing).
You may hear fine in the quiet of your provider’s office, but once
you get out into the real world, you may not. You need to work with
your provider and not throw up your hands in despair when something
isn’t quite right, which it most likely won’t be initially. A commitment
to return for check-ups and refinements to recently purchased hearing
aids is so important for your success as a hearing aid user.
of all the money you are spending on the latest technology (and especially
all that seductive advertising!), you will naturally expect miracles
from your hearing aids. The truth is that hearing aids won’t give
you perfect hearing, and they certainly won’t eliminate background
noise—normal hearing people can’t even eliminate it! The more severe
your hearing loss, the more you will need to rely on speechreading
skills and assistive listening devices. The secret to getting good
results from your hearing aids is to wear them every waking moment
after an initial breaking-in period (except for bathing, of course).
Many people, especially those who live alone, seem to have a harder
time adjusting to hearing aids because they wear them only for conversation.
Even if it’s only you and your cat, you need to wear them or you’re
doomed to failure.
can’t think of anyone who has jumped up and down shouting, “Oh, goody!
I can’t wait to get hearing aids!” Most of us want to spend
as little money as possible, pick out the most inconspicuous aids,
and get the whole thing over with quickly. The reality is (generally
speaking) that the more money we spend, the better the aids will be;
the larger the aids we get, the better we’ll hear; and the longer
we take with follow-up appointments, the greater our success will
be. Yes, hearing aids are very expensive, and your insurance probably
won’t cover much of the cost. Medicare, unbelievably, won’t
cover any of it—no matter who you are. You’ll just have to resign
yourself to leaving less money to your kids. No doubt your kids
would probably rather you spend it on hearing aids anyway. Better
hearing is better quality of life now—for both you and them.
Put your hearing first, and the rest will follow, including ridding
yourself of the nagging about your hearing problem. Now
you understand what it means to be hearing challenged.
with permission of the author. This article originally appeared in
the Washington State Association SHHH Newsletter Fall '99 (Vol. 7,
No. 1). Visit WASA-SHHH at http://www.wasa-shhh.org.