Introduction to Hearing Aids
What to Expect from a Hearing Aid Purchase
Since you are considering the purchase of hearing aids, it's important for you to establish reasonable expectations from these highly sophisticated, miniature devices. Acquiring hearing aids is not merely a simple act of going to a store and purchasing a product. Rather, it is a complex process-one that evolves over time and begins with the hearing –impaired individual accepting the realization that hearing impairment has detrimental effects on interpersonal relationships and safety. The hearing impaired person's motivation to hear well is the single most important factor in determining the success of the hearing aid fitting. It is important to realize that you will not experience the exact same benefits from your hearing aids as your neighbor does. This individuality is a critical component, and I want to emphasize that your expectations should be based on you, your type and degree of hearing loss, your past experiences, and the improvements you personally receive from amplification.
There are several "reasonable expectations" for the hearing aid consumer. However, there is only one totally unreasonable expectation-do not expect normal or perfect hearing!
- Expect others to notice your hearing loss before you do! A common complaint of hearing-impaired individuals is that other people mumble-and if they would just speak up, it would be easier to hear them! This is placing the "blame" externally, rather than accepting the reality that your ears are not as good as they used to be. Realize that it is your hearing. Take that step to have your hearing tested before you blast your loving spouse out of the den with the blaring sound of the TV set. Seek our help! We are here for you.
- Expect our staff to be knowledgeable, courteous, and accommodating. Your audiologist will take a thorough case history. She is searching for information about your hearing loss, its probable cause, and whether your offspring may be affected. It is important to establish the presence of any medical condition associated with your hearing loss as this will trigger a medical referral. Comprehensive hearing and hearing aid evaluations will be conducted. These evaluations will provide information about the degree and nature of your hearing loss, as well as your ability to process and discriminate the fine sounds of speech. Comfortable listening levels will be defined, as well as a determination about how well you tolerate loud, intense speech and other sounds. These findings are very important as they allow the audiologist to pre-set some of the characteristics of the hearing aid's circuitry. You will have time to talk with the audiologist about the different styles of hearing aids (in-the-ear, in-the-canal, completely-in-the-canal, behind-the-ear), the advantages and disadvantages of each style, and maintenance issues and costs involved. Approximately 80% of all hearing aids sold fit in the ear. After you and your audiologist determine the best style of hearing aid for your needs, an ear impression will be obtained. The ear impression is a plastic case of your ear which reveals the exact shape of your ear so the laboratory can place circuitry in a hearing aid shell that will fit your ear(s) only.
- What is the best for me? Everyone in the hearing aid industry acknowledges the fact that there is not a single "best" hearing aid. Rather, there are many excellent hearing aid brands available, and there are many different types of circuitry that may benefit you. Your audiologist uses the case history information and the evaluation results to make the best recommendation for you and your lifestyle. Expect a recommendation to purchase two hearing aids if both of your ears are hearing impaired and are "aidable." There are many benefits to binaural (two ear) hearing, including being better able to understand speech in noise, and being better able to localize sound. Your audiologist will explain the advantages of a binaural fitting versus a monaural fitting in more detail. Nonetheless, it is very important to understand that if you have two ears with hearing loss, and you only wear a hearing aid in one ear, you will still have significant hearing problems, even under the best of circumstances. A reasonable good analogy is to consider wearing a single eye glass for a two-eye vision problem, such as being near-sighted or far-sighted--it simply will not work well for very long!
- Expect our staff of assess your hearing difficulties in several environments and define individual goals for you. These goals may include hearing your spouse better in the car, hearing your friends better on the phone, or any others that relate to you and your hearing difficulties. These assessments are not like the hearing evaluation given by the audiologist. These are tools that allow us to measure your self-perception of how your hearing loss affects your activities of daily living and how amplification can improve you quality of life.
- Expect to be offered a 30 day trial period. Although not always required by law, many audiologists offer a trial period of 30 days for you to adapt to amplification. You may be asked to pay a non-refundable fee during this time. Ask about this trial period, and if not offered, seek a second opinion. Use this 30 day trial period to test the hearing aids in the environments that are typical of your lifestyle-not only at home, but also at your friends' and relatives' homes, your favorite restaurant, shopping center, grocery store, or place of worship.
- Expect the hearing aids to cost more than you think they should. There are three categories of hearing aid technology-analog, digitally programmable, and digital. Analog technology has been around for many years. Aids utilizing this technology are also called "conventional" hearing aids and they are the least expensive. Digital hearing aids use digital signal processing-the newest form of technology on the market. Digital hearing aids are indeed complete computers, similar to the PC on your desktop, but they are the size of a pencil eraser! These aids cost approximately $2500 per aid, similar to your PC. Digitally programmable hearing aids will cost somewhere between the conventional price and the digital price. You many benefit from any of the three types of technology. Speak with your audiologist about the types of circuitry and which would be best for you.
- Expect an initial orientation session with your audiologist in which you will learn how to handle and care for your new aids. You should invite your spouse or significant other to attend this first critical session in getting oriented to your new aids. During this session, you will be taught how to operate the hearing aids, how to clean them, and how to change the batteries. You will receive written information about your aids. Please note, batteries are particularly important. Please be sure to store them and use them exactly as your audiologist advises. Please be sure to keep all batteries away from pets and children. It may be difficult for you to remember all the things the audiologist tells you during this first session, so don't leave the office without your instructional brochure. It will be very valuable to you, particularly during the first weeks of owning your new hearing aids.
- Expect a period of adjustment. Once you get your new hearing aids, expect an adjustment period of several days to many weeks to get used to the daily care and maintenance of the hearing aids. You'll need time to learn how to: insert and remove the hearing aids from your ear, learn to adjust the volume control, learn how to clean them, learn how to open and close the battery door, learn to change the battery. As you can see, there is a lot to learn, and people learn at different speeds. I recommend that you go slowly, learn one thing at a time, practice, and stay in contact with your hearing healthcare professional.
- Expect your voice to sound different. For many reasons, your voice will sound strange to you at first-like being in a barrel. This is a normal early perception and it is often called the "occlusion effect". If you don't adjust to this after a few days, discuss this with your audiologist. Many times, this feeling can be alleviated through changes in the hearing aid. Your audiologist deals with this issue regularly, and they will be able to solve this with you over a short period of time.
- Expect a good, comfortable fit. Initially, it will take a while to get used to having the hearing aids in your ears. You may experience a little soreness or irritation at first, but after a few days or a week or so, you should be able to wear the aids for several hours per day without any pain or discomfort. I always find it reassuring when patients tell me they often forget that they are wearing their aids. Remember-even though the audiologist will make your ear impressions so your hearing aids will be custom fit, many things can happen in the manufacturing process and any discomfort should be reported to your audiologist immediately. If your aids are not comfortable, you will not get the maximum benefit from them, and you should not wear them. Report all discomfort or irritations to your hearing healthcare professional, and do not wear the hearing aids until she advises you as to how to best address the problem.
- Expect multiple follow-up appointments. The greatest advantage of digital hearing aid technology is the flexibility in programming the sound quality, as well as many other electro-acoustic characteristics of your hearing aids. These hearing aids are highly sophisticated instruments with many features. The computer software that is used to program your hearing aids allows the audiologist to make a multitude of adjustments while the aids are in your ears. You can actually hear many of the changes as the audiologist is adjusting different features or characteristics. Other features will only be noticeable in other environments. So, be sure to tell your audiologist as much as you can about your listening experiences in many environments.
Congratulations on taking your first step towards better hearing! Our goal is to help you in this process and we look forward to seeing you again.
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