Many people expect that when they first get hearing aids it will be similar to the experience of wearing glasses; you put them on and things are instantly clear. For most people, it can be surprising or even disappointing that adjusting to hearing aids is not quite that simple.
Hearing aids are designed to amplify sounds that you cannot hear well. Most also have features to attempt to reduce background noise and enhance speech. For many people their hearing has been slowly deteriorating for years, if not a decade or more! Your brain has grown accustomed to the reduced level of sound around you. It’s not used to hearing rustling or air conditioning or other subtle sounds in the environment. Suddenly with hearing aids you are bombarded with these sounds that you haven’t heard in a long time, and they are often sharper or louder than what you are used to. It will take time for your brain to adjust to this new normal and re learn what sounds to attend to and what sounds to ignore.
Your Audiologist will perform measurements of the sound from the hearing aids ears, and work to obtain the right balance between optimising the sound for speech clarity and understanding, as well as setting them so that they sound pleasant and comfortable for you. They will also run through how to manage them, and send you home with some tools to assist you, but the next step is over to you.
Why is Adjusting to Hearing Aids Sometimes Challenging?
Hearing speech, and in turn processing the language involved, is a very complex thing. Our brains are “programmed” to make use of the sound patterns and cues in speech and to use these to understand what is said. Hearing aids are able to give you better access to these sounds, but it will take time and practice for your brain to be able to use them well. In addition, hearing aids will amplify other sounds in your environment, not just speech.
Even the most advanced hearing aids can’t completely overcome damage to the auditory system. What is realistic in terms of speech clarity and understanding depends on the severity of your hearing loss, how long you have had the hearing loss, the type of loss and the shape of your hearing loss. Your audiologist will be able to guide you as to what is realistic for you. Remember that one persons experience with hearing aids will be different from the next persons.
These are some simple tips that will help you adjust to your hearing aids and get the most out of them.
1. Be Patient
It will take time to adjust to the new sounds you are hearing as well as the day to day management of getting your hearing aids in and managing them well. Be patient and gentle with yourself! Most people find that adjusting to hearing aids takes several months but unfortunately some people don’t make it this far or they get into unhelpful habits of only wearing the hearing aids sometimes. Be persistent and push through this initial hard phase. You will benefit in the long run! Even if you’ve never worn hearing aids “well” in the past, it is never too late to start again.
2. Be Realistic
Hearing aids will not and can not restore your hearing back to “normal”. For most people it is unrealistic to think you should hear everything, especially in environments with a lot of background noise or multiple speakers. It is also not possible to amplify ONLY speech but not also amplify all the everyday noises that are around us. You can’t have the hearing aids tuned for speech but expect never to hear the air conditioner or the birds. Over time you will adjust to the everyday sounds around you and they will seem less noticeable. Hearing aids are an AID, they can’t restore hearing to normal but with proper use they can help you hear and engage in conversation significantly better.
3. Be consistent
The key to success with hearing aids is regular use. Noise will be overwhelming when you first wear hearing aids. If you only put your hearing aids in when you are going out into a noisy environment, it will be very difficult to get used to the hearing aids sound. Our brain needs to relearn how things sound, and what sounds are important and need to be focused on, and what sounds are not important. Start by wearing your hearing aids in quiet environments and around familiar people for a few hours at a time. This will help your brain to adjust to the everyday sounds of your environment like air conditioning, cutlery clattering, newspaper pages, shuffling feet, tapping on a keyboard etc. You will find there are many sounds that you haven’t heard or noticed in a long time. This isn’t a sign of a problem, it is an indication that your brain is hearing more sounds. You will find that over time these sounds will fade into the background as your brain learns to ignore them. If your brain is used to the volume and sharpness of sound before you step into noisy and challenging environments, you will find your hearing aids more beneficial in these situations.
4. Get Educated
There is a lot to learn when you first get hearing aids. Take the time to read through the instruction book and any other information provided by your audiologist. Ask any questions if you aren’t sure, nothing is silly or too simple to ask! Your audiologist knows there is a lot to take in at that first appointment. They don’t expect you to remember everything and are more than happy to review things as many times as needed. You can also read our article on listening and communication strategies.
5. Work Towards Full Time Use
Starting in quiet is always a good idea but ultimately we are aiming to build to full time use. Our brains like consistency, they don’t do well with changing sound inputs from on/off hearing aid use. It is important that even at times you don’t feel you “need” your hearing aids, such as at home on your own, you still wear them. Even in quiet times when you aren’t communicating with others your brain is receiving a variety of sound inputs from your environment. It is during these times that it learns what sounds are “everyday” or “all the time” sounds that it doesn’t need to attend to. Ideally, all people with a hearing loss should be aiming to wear their hearing aids from when they get up until when they go to bed. Wearing your hearing aids more WON’T make your hearing worse or “lazy”!
6. Know When To Seek Help
If you find that you are struggling to adjust even with consistent use, you may need to book an appointment with your audiologist to review your progress. At Pittwater Hearing we see our clients several times after the initial fitting to ensure they are adjusting well. We like to see our clients at least 1-2 times a year after that to ensure that the hearing aids are optimised for your hearing loss and that you are happy with your devices. If anything is uncomfortable or unclear, or you are having issues managing the hearing aids then book an appointment to follow up with your audiologist.