Last year, in a Starkey Sound Bites podcast, we gathered a panel of experts to answer 10 of the most frequently asked questions we get about hearing, hearing loss and hearing aids.
We’ve transcribed their answer below, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Dave Fabry, Ph.D. — So Jamie, you mentioned that in addition to that “wah wah woh wah wah” Charlie Brown voice, that sometimes people who are trying and wearing and experiencing hearing aids for the first time report that they sound a little strange, a little different, a little unnatural. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Jamie Myers, Au.D. — Most people wait about 10 years — five to seven being on the low end — between being diagnosed with hearing loss and actually doing something about it.
During that time, your brain is not used to hearing sounds: certainly some speech sounds and also environmental sounds like your blinker on your car.
And so I always use the analogy of, let's say you're in a room for five to seven years and we start slowly turning down the lights. And by the end of those years, maybe the room is dark, maybe it's still a little dim. What if somebody walks in that room and just flips on the light? You're not going to like that very much. You're going to go, “Oh, whoa. That's way too much. It's way too bright.”
It's very similar with treating your hearing loss. We can't just come in, put the hearing aids on you, turn them on to prescribed levels and say, “Sound good? Okay. We never need to see you again.” We very much have to ease you into it, ease your brain into it.
And you have to work to identify those sounds that you've been missing again.
So oftentimes people might realize that their car actually needs maintenance because they haven't been hearing this whirring and clicking from their engine or perhaps their refrigerator. We have to start you below prescription first to help acclimate your brain. And we even tell you, “listen to an audio book, go out and talk to your friends and family.”
Words are nutrients of the brain, and you really need to re-acclimate to all of these things that you've been missing and feed your brain again. I would always tell my patients, "I'm going to fit you a little below your prescription this first week, maybe the first two weeks. When you come back, I want you to tell me you're not hearing as well as you did when you first got your hearing aids, because that means you've acclimated and we can start to turn you up again."
So certainly don't have the preconceived notion that it is just like glasses — I put them on and I'm good to go. Your hearing loss is a little more complex with its connection to your brain. So we certainly need to give it a little more time.
Dave Fabry, Ph.D. — And I think as well, sometimes people also report that when they're first fitted with hearing aids they often say “My own voice sounds funny.” And it does take a while for people to adapt to that.
Jamie Myers, Au.D. — Yeah, absolutely. I mean our goal — I think with any new hearing aid — is to have it sound more natural and have it sound more clear, as well as the processing speed always gets faster. So some of it is the delay in what you're hearing. There's just this millisecond delay, but our brains are quick, they can catch it.
And so you start to hear that delay. But rest assured within days of wearing them full time — that's another thing I will say: wearing your hearing aids eight to 10 to 12 to 14 hours a day is what you have to do. I don't want to give away industry secrets, but we can tell how long you wear your hearing aids. So don't try to trick your audiologist, your hearing instrument specialist. You need to be wearing them.
Dave Fabry, Ph.D. — What I'm hearing you say with this answer is — for the hearing aid user — when they're first starting out with amplification, be patient with yourself. If it sounds completely natural, it's probably not doing enough to give you that benefit. But to use that dimmer — and I really like your analogy of a dimmer switch that we're slowly bringing up as you get used to hearing some more of those sounds — give yourself the grace and the patience to acclimate to that, because it will take time to get there.
To find a nearby hearing professional or audiologist who can let you hear the difference today’s hearing aids can make, simply type your zip code in here. You’ll generate a list of local providers who you can contact.
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