October 16, 2014

New Hearing Aids: What Should I Expect?

First time hearing aid users

Approximately 8.4 million people in America currently wear hearing aids. While some of those individuals may have been wearing hearing aids for decades, some are just starting their journey to better hearing. If you are considering hearing aids for the first time, or considering trying amplification again after a long time, you may wonder what the first few weeks of life will be like in your new ears. Understanding what to expect can help to ease some of the anxiety associated with a new fitting.

Be Patient

On average, patients wait over 10 years after their initial diagnosis to be fit with their first set of hearing aids. Most of these people will have gradual, progressive hearing loss which they have not noticed getting worse with time. This means that many first time hearing aid users have been living in a quieter world than usual for many years. They may not have heard the softer, every day sounds of life that are always present but not necessarily attended to by individuals with normal hearing. When these individuals first start using hearing aids, these sounds are suddenly audible again. New hearing aid users report being able to hear everything from the refrigerator running, to water boiling on the stove, to the turn signal in the car. All of these sounds are now novel and interesting for the brain because they have not been heard in so long. Put simply, that means that these sounds may be at the forefront of a new user’s attention more than he or she might want. Certainly no one wants to sit and listen to the air conditioner run, but it may feel like that is what you are doing during the first few weeks in hearing aids. Be patient. Your brain needs time to adjust to all the new stimulation it is receiving and decide what is and is not important to attend to. By wearing your hearing aids full-time, you will teach your brain to ignore the noises that you do not want to pay attention to, just like it used to do before your hearing loss.

You will hear many new sounds that you have not have heard in awhile with your hearing aids. Some of these sounds will be exciting, others may be bothersome. Consistent use of hearing aids allows your brain to readjust to new stimulation.

Don’t Change Your Routine

One thing that new hearing aid users are tempted to do is to avoid crowded areas or noisy situations when they first get their hearing aids. They may be afraid that these situations will be overwhelming or even painful. It is very important that you do not change how you live your life because of new hearing aids. You should feel comfortable wearing your devices all day, every day. In order to get to that point, you have to expose yourself to more difficult listening situations like background noise and crowds. In truth, these situations may be a little overwhelming at first (but never painful!), but with time, your brain will get better at filtering out noise and focusing on speech. Being in more difficult listening situations also allows you to provide feedback to your audiologist, who can make appropriate programming changes based on your lifestyle.

Go about your regular life in your hearing aids. You may feel overwhelmed with sound in more difficult listening situations, but this will improve with time and follow-up programming.

Have Realistic Expectations

Finally, it is very important to have realistic expectations about how hearing aids will work for you. Your hearing aids will not restore normal hearing and you should be skeptical of anyone that tells you otherwise. If there is a lot of background noise present, such as in a busy restaurant or a party, communication will be difficult just like it is for a normal hearing individual. You will also likely always need to use visual cues and context clues when communicating, just like you did before your hearing aids.  Your audiologist will spend time going over your hearing loss specifically and explaining why hearing aids may help in some situations, but not in others. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Hearing aids are a financial expense and a time commitment, so it is only fair that you know their benefits and limitations.

While hearing aids hold the potential to provide a huge benefit to individuals with hearing loss, they cannot restore normal hearing. Some listening situations will always be difficult and the communication strategies you have developed will continue to serve you well, even with new hearing aids.   

Know that your experience with hearing aids will be uniquely your own. Family and friends can provide good insight into the hearing aid process but your hearing loss and fittings are different so your experience will be different as well. If you are considering amplification and would like to talk more about your options or what to expect, please make an appointment with your JHBI audiologist today to learn more!


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