A week before Christmas one of my hearing aids broke. It had been intermittent for a month or so, and became progressively worse, until it stopped working altogether.
When I visited the clinic, the audiologist agreed that it had to be sent out for repair. It was the week before Christmas so it wouldn’t have been ready for a while because of the festive break.
I was gonna be left without my hearing aid for a very long time.
I politely asked if they gave away spare ones on these occasions, a courtesy hearing aid maybe?
A categorical “no” with no explanation was all I got from the audiologist. How so?
People get courtesy cars and even courtesy smartphones, and yet courtesy hearing aids are not even a thing? Why? I am sure it would not be acceptable for an optician to send their clients home with only one of their lenses, but how is half hearing okay?
Anyway, back to reality: I was going to be without my hearing aid for one month, and I had to deal with it. The Christmas break meant that I would not have to deal with reduced hearing at work much, but what about all the family gatherings? It was gonna be a challenge and I knew it.
Fortunately, since this is not my first pair, I still own my old ones that are now my backup, which I brought with me. I put it on and I left the clinic.
Now, you have to know that my old hearing aid is not nearly as good as my new one. It’s like it has “reduced audio zoom”: it makes things that are near sound loud and clear, but softer sounds that are more than 10ft away from my ear are not even in its radar. It also, oddly, makes my own voice deeper, I feel like a radio presenter for a moment.
Suddenly, minutes after I have my old hearing aid in, audio memories came back, as I remembered how I used to hear years ago.
While I am adjusting to the new sound, I realise that I can’t make sense of what’s being said, the sound comes in, but words are hard to grasp.
If you ever put on your contact lenses the other way around and felt confused, I guess you’ve had a similar feeling.
I know that it is hard to compare two imperfect senses equally, because it depends on how much you need the information that’s being processed by the sense in question. We have to hear reasonably well to take part in a social gathering, but not necessarily see very well. On the other hand, we wouldn’t be able to fly a plane with reduced vision.
For the few days to come, I felt constantly tired as I strained to hear, and struggled with headaches.
But then, something interesting happened. After a couple of weeks of wearing my old and new hearing aid pair, my brain adjusted. I was no longer uncomfortable with the sound that came into my ears. I got used to it.
But, my speech comprehension was poor. I was asking “What’s that?” way more often than usual.
This is what happened:
The newly adjusted brain was comfortable with what was coming in, even though it struggled to make sense of it.
Once you get adjusted to hearing aids, it’s very hard to understand what’s wrong, for me in this case it was easier to figure it out as I knew my setup was sub-optimal. But what if I just purchased new hearing aids and the fitting that the audiologist did for me was not that great?
I am quite used to solving technical problems, but what if I wasn’t? How would I be able to come to the conclusion, on my own, that poor fitting means poor hearing?
How would I ever figure that out?
The reality is that there is no way to understand if we are using our hearing aids at the best of their capabilities. Some tools are available to the audiologist, but once we leave the quiet clinic room, the same rules don’t apply. Even though hearing aid technology has improved and some degree of automatic adjusting algorithms are available, they don’t really work well for every situation.
A month ago, I launched the Hearing Hacks Starter’s Guide, and the early data I collected suggests that most people struggle more than they should.
The most common complaints are based around the inability to hear when there is background noise and too much feedback. This makes me wonder whether they have the best possible fitting or if it can be improved.
We need tools that we can use in real life, some self-assessment that we can take multiple times and in multiple situations.
To the #audpeeps out there (people who work in the field of hearing care), what is an effective way to check if our hearing aids are fitted properly? Is there any DIY method that you are aware of?
To the hearing aid users? Do you know how good (or how bad) your fitting is? How do you tell?
If you think that poor fitting is a problem and want to find a solution, let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Let’s get to the bottom of this.
The Hearing Hacks Starter’s Guide Course helps you make the most out of challenging day-to-day situations by teaching how to communicate more effectively with other people. Sign up for the FREE course here: http://minicourse.hearinghacks.com/.