Adjusting to Hearing Aids

EarDiagram

The first time I got glasses, I walked out of my optometrist’s office and could not believe that I could see individual leaves on the trees, read the chalkboard from the back of the classroom, or read signs as my parents drove around town.  The effect was instantaneous and there was no adjustment needed on my part, I just thought it a miracle that I could see things I barely realized I hadn’t been seeing.  Well…those are eyes, not ears.  And while you will notice immediate benefits and effects from your hearing aids, adjusting to them is not an instantaneous process by any means.

 

Considering the fact that the average person waits 5-7 years to pursue help for a hearing loss after they initially notice it, there is a long period of time when the brain is receiving a reduced and/or degraded signal going from the ear up to the brain because sound is often outside of the person’s range of hearing and does not activate the nerve.  People with hearing impairment stop hearing the little things, like the motor on the refrigerator running, the icemaker, the sound their footsteps make or clothing makes, and so on.  Time goes by and you forget that certain things and environments put out sounds.

 

People are always so surprised when they first try a hearing aid, and one of the most common complaints I get at follow up appointments are “I am hearing things I WANT to hear, but I’m also hearing things I DON’T want to hear”, (usually things like I’ve listed in the above paragraph, as well as background noise).  Noises that have not been audible for years are now all people can focus on, and it drives them crazy.  The good news is that over time, your brain will learn to separate out the noise just like it does for a person with normal hearing, no longer bothering you.  Some people never get entirely used to hearing background sounds, but hearing aids are much smarter than they used to be and do a great job of helping to reduce the background sounds.  Upon first fitting of the hearing aids, the brain focuses heavily on background noise, as it can be overwhelming for the brain to hear and process sounds at levels it hasn’t heard in quite some time.

How long does it take to adjust to new hearing aids?

That’s the million dollar question.  I believe that most people start to adjust within the first 30 days or so.  That is why most states have a 30 day return policy on their instruments; a month is a good length of time to try the instruments and start becoming accustomed to them.  However, the amount of time it takes to adjust to the instruments can depend on several things

  • The expectations you have set forth—Hearing aids do not restore your hearing.  You will not hear like you did when you were 10 years old.  They are an aid to help you more easily navigate your life, but they will not take the place of normal hearing.
  • The settings of your instruments—most hearing healthcare professionals will start the settings of a new hearing aid for a new user out below the targeted goal.  We do not want to give you too much sound at the beginning; rather we set the instruments below the target and gradually increase the volume over the first few weeks and months of wear.
  • Your wearing schedule for the hearing aids—the more you wear the hearing aids, the faster you will adjust.  It really is as simple as that.  I would recommend using the instruments at home in your regular life at first, then adding in more challenging listening situations as you get more familiar with the aids and how they work.  My reasoning for this is simple: until your brain gets used to hearing through the instruments in an easy setting, it’s going to struggle in a more difficult setting.

 

Getting used to hearing aids takes patience and persistence.  I always say “Progress, Not Perfection”.  Each hour you wear the instruments is another hour of learning for your brain.  You must give yourself time to get used to a new “sense”, as we are replacing the old sense.  Make it a goal to wear your hearing aid as much as possible, unless it is making your ear sore/painful.  If you can’t listen for more than a few hours, start with that and build on it,  Three hours today, four hours tomorrow, five hours the day after that.  Soon you will be up to putting it in when you wake up and taking it out before bed, which is ideal.  Write down any issues or problems you have with noises and take those notes to your follow up appointments; your hearing healthcare professional will make the necessary adjustments and gauge your progress with the instruments.

Don’t give up!  It won’t be easy, but it WILL be worth it.

Until next time,

Dr. Kristin

Mike