Hearing aids can help reduce the impact a hearing loss has on an individual's ability to communicate and engage effectively with the world around them.
Hearing aids however are no alternative to natural hearing and cannot fully bring back ones hearing to how it used to be. At the end of the day, they are an aid and just like a walking aid will not enable a person to run a marathon, the expectations that hearing aids will bring back ones hearing to normal must be discussed.
This even goes for the expensive hearing aids that claim to improve hearing in noise and more complicated or demanding environments. However, despite the inherent limitations of hearing aids, they are a useful device if one knows how to use them effectively.
This post will highlight some simple strategies and ways to get the most out of your hearing aids. Why does this matter? Well, for a lot of people, a great deal of expense both monetarily and time-wise has gone into hearing aids and wanting to hear better. Why not get the most out of this investment. Not only will you benefit, but those around you will greatly appreciate it to.
Firstly we need to ask ourselves, how do we hear? We hear with a combination of both our ears and our brain. Sound enters our body via our ear canals (for the majority of people), gets converted into mechanical energy in our middle ear via our ear drum and ossicles (3 small bones in the middle ear) which in turn creates fluid movement in the cochlear at specific locations corresponding to the frequencies present in the sound.
The cochlear then converts this mechanical energy into an electrical signal that gets sent to our brain (the auditory cortex) via our auditory nerve. It is then up to our brain to process and interpret these sounds so that they become meaningful to us.
Unfortunately, a hearing loss can occur anywhere along this pathway and can sometimes involve multiple locations. For example, a person may simultaneously have a perforated ear drum (conductive hearing loss) and cochlear damage (sensorineural hearing loss).
This will both attenuate and distort sounds entering the auditory system. Alternatively, you may have a person who has a combination of a cochlear loss and due to ageing, is unable to process sounds as efficiently in the brain. Even with hearing aids, this kind of person may still struggle particularly in noisy situations.
So what can you do? Our brain is a muscle so the more you use it, the better it gets at doing a specific task. If hearing aids have been prescribed to you, the most important thing you can do to get the most out of them is to WEAR them as often as possible.
This will provide the hearing parts of the brain with regular stimulation to the important speech sounds required for speech understanding.
The more the brain engages with these sounds, the better it gets at extracting meaningful information from them. As an audiologist, I often get asked by people 'how often should I wear my hearing aids as I am home by myself during the day and I only really need them when I go out?'
Well, my response is that if they want to hear well with their hearing aids when they need them, they should wear their hearing aids when they don't need them. Even a few hours during the day (particularly when watching TV) will help.
The next thing to do is make sure the sound leaving the hearing aid and travelling down your ear canal is not interfered with by wax. Wax can prevent sound from clearly travelling down your ear canal and hence will reduce the effectiveness of your hearing aids.
The easiest way to manage wax is to use a few drops of olive oil in each ear once a month (some people may need to use more and apply it more often).
Hearing aid users tend to have a higher propensity of wax occlusion problems owing to the fact that they have something in their ears which interferes with the ear's natural self-cleansing mechanism. Therefore, often olive oil by itself will not be enough to clear the wax.
The safest, gentlest and most effective way to remove wax is to get a trained clinician to use gentle microsuction which is what we offer here at Pristine Hearing. This is the preferred approach used by Ear, Noise and Throat Specialists for a reason.
Wax can also get into the hearing aids so it is also important to be vigilant with cleaning them. Its a good idea to brush all over the hearing aids including the microphones which may become blocked with dust.
Some hearing aids even come with their own wax management systems in the form of wax guards which need to be changed every couple of months.
If you have not been shown how to do this, ask you audiologist next time you see them or you are welcome to be shown this by our friendly staff whenever you are available. At the end of the day, not having clean ears or clean hearing aids is like getting dental work done on your teeth but then not brushing them or keeping them clean.
Finally, the last thing needed to get the most out of your hearing aids requires some assistance from others.
Your family and friends need to understand that the best way to communicate with you is by gaining your attention first, reducing their distance to you and to make sure they are facing you when they speak.
In noise, most hearing aids are designed to focus towards the front which means to hear at your best in these situations, make sure that most of the noise is behind you and the person you want to hear is in front of you.
I have to stress here that even once all that I have said is applied, for some individuals with a hearing impairment they will still find it difficult in the more demanding listening environments like a restaurant.
Sometimes the distortional aspect of ones hearing loss (which can include auditory processing issues) is just too great for hearing aids to overcome.
More sophisticated hearing aids certainly have a greater chance at providing assistance but one does need to have realistic expectations. It may even be difficult for people with 'normal' hearing.
Some environments are just too demanding. I know I struggle hearing my wife sometimes (maybe not enough) in the car especially when travelling at fast speeds.
For some people, remote microphone systems are the only viable way to provide auditory information in the form of speech directly from the source via a remote microphone to their hearing aids when the listening situation becomes too complex.
Every patient will have different physical abilities and varying listening needs. Your Audiologist should always provide you with workable solutions that are geared at improving your hearing where you need it. Together you should see improvements with perseverance and due diligence.
And thats it!!!
I hope by reading this post, you have a greater appreciation about the intricacies of our ears and the way we hear as well as the role hearing aids can play to help reduce the impact of hearing loss. Stay tuned for our next post.
To arrange an appointment with our Audiologist to discuss ways to improve your hearing or to get the most out of your hearing aid/s, call (08) 6336 7170 or visit here.
Michael is a very thorough and experienced Audiologist who takes pride in ensuring his patients are listened to, valued, respected and achieve the best results possible. He has worked as a Senior Audiologist seeing a broad case load from young infants right up to complex adults who require more specialised audiological care and management. Apart from Audiology, Michael has a Bachelor in Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics from The University of Melbourne. When you see Michael for a consultation, you will wonder why you never saw him sooner.