How I Learned to Love My Audiologist

My audiologist is a Very Important Person in my life. She’s not at the very top of my “Favourite People” list – that’s reserved for family, close friends and the cats – but she’s close to it,  because she helps me live a good, communication-rich life.

This philosophy makes me a bit of an oddball. The very fact that I use the services of an audiologist puts me in the minority among my universal brothers and sisters with hearing loss. A recent study by Dr. Frank Lin shows that only 14% of people who could benefit from hearing aids actually have them. And according to the ASHA-AARP National Hearing Health Poll of 2300 adults aged 50+, over 75% of respondents say that hearing health is important to them, yet half reported having a hearing loss for which they had not sought help.

Apparently, I’m also unusual because I’m happy with my audiologist. If she doesn’t have the answer to a question such as, “On the plane, my t-switch causes electrical hum, so how am I supposed to watch the movie?”, she will do her best to find out. (Now, I simply use large, over-the-ear headphones, positioning them to minimize feedback.)

 

Finding a Great Audiologist or Hearing Aid Specialist

 

On the rare occasion when I’m looking to find an audiologist or hearing aid specialist, I know what to look for beyond quality service and successful technology. Is she or he clearly knowledgeable about hearing loss and its real-life barriers? Is she or he willing to find solutions for out-of-the-ordinary technical or other communication problems? If a provider can help me in these areas, then I’m willing to help them with any of their weaker skills, such as knowing how to actually talk to a person with hearing loss.

When I got my first hearing aid, I had complete trust in Ms. Fothergill, my very first  hearing instrument specialist, because I had no preconceived notions of what a provider should offer.  I was just so gosh-darn happy to finally get a hearing aid!  She could have told me that this huge beige contraption would, unfortunately, make me look like the Wicked Witch of the West, and I would have responded, “Oh, but that’s always been my DREAM, Ms. Fothergill, thank you so much!”

Through the years, I’ve worked with a few professionals.  Many/most are wonderful, but I’ve learned that not all hearing professionals are built alike.

In one memorable hearing assessment, the audiologist was either in a bad mood, struggling with new equipment, or had failed her Audiology counseling course.  All I know is that she didn’t nurture me; at one point, she pressed the button and her sharp voice filled the torture chamber, “Ms. Kennedy, I don’t think you’re trying very hard.”

Now, any experienced harda-hearing person knows that after a few minutes of raising our hand to perceived sounds, our heads are jammed with beeps and noise – we can’t tell what’s real and what ain’t. So, sometimes we guess – partly because we don’t want to fail the test, and partly because we worry that, if we sit there like sullen lumps, we will be referred for psychological assessment.

She may have considered this option anyway, because after her insensitive comment, I ripped off my headphones and started crying, “Excuse me!? I am trying VERY hard – how dare you say that to me?” She apologized and tried to calm me down, but that was the end of our relationship.

Then there was a favorite audiologist who had one unfortunate habit. He would chat to me while cleaning my hearing aids, even though I was temporarily deaf and unable to read his lips. And I know he was talking to me because, as he worked with his back to me, I could see his head talk-bobbing and he kept turning to smile at me, possibly waiting for an answer to a question I had not heard. Fortunately, he was trainable and he flourished under my care. We parted company only because he moved away.

I visit my audiologist regularly, but I know that many people with hearing loss never or seldom darken the door of a hearing professional. The reasons are well-documented: denial that hearing loss exists, the stigma that ties hearing loss to dementia or aging, the belief that their condition is not serious enough to warrant help (“it’s part of life”), resistance to hearing aids (high cost, appearance, distrust of effectiveness) and a belief that hearing health professionals “only want to sell me a hearing aid”.

Hearing-related organizations (professional and consumer) and governments need to work harder to remove barriers to effective hearing help. Unaddressed hearing loss lowers a person’s quality of life and the collective impact of an aging population with hearing loss is becoming significant. I’ve been hard of hearing since birth, but it’s only been in the last 15 years, with the help of professionals and other consumers, that I’ve really come to understand my hearing loss and learned how to knock down a few barriers of my own. I’m a crackerjack speechreader, know how to control my communication environment, can express my needs and I have a mostly positive attitude.

But for the person who is new to this frightening world of hearing loss, these skills don’t automatically happen. It takes time – and support. There’s stuff we just can’t do on our own.  I am not able to self-administer hearing tests. I cannot self-prescribe hearing aids,  and I can’t repair them either (tried that once, a disaster). If I was upset and anxious about my new hearing loss, it wouldn’t be easy to calm myself down and approach the issue rationally.

As a person with hearing loss, I need to admit my hearing loss and be open to professional support – and it’s the job of the hearing health provider to help me put it all together. Through trial and error, I have learned that a good hearing health professional is someone who listens to me, validates my concerns, understands my challenges and discusses solutions with me.

And THAT’s how I came to love my audiologist.

Next Week:  Me & My Audie – How  The Consumer & Professional Must Work Together

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

13 Comments

  1. Hi Gael, As usual very insightful for me – hearing parent – as our four year old son adjusts to his aids. I am fascinated by your seemingly simple observations, experiences and thoughts. I would never think of these things… thank you for expanding my sphere of awareness!

  2. Hi Gael, As usual very insightful for me – hearing parent – as our son (4) adjusts to his aids. I am fascinated by your seemingly “simple” observations or experiences or thoughts. I would never think of these things, thank you for expanding my sphere of awareness!

  3. I also love my audiologist! I see her every other month or whenever I feel I need a tune-up. She’s one of the few who understands me!

  4. Wonderful article Gael. I too have had fantastic audiologists that I leave with reluctance due to their retirement or my relocation. It is so important to be able to work with the audiologist to maximize hearing benefits and the development of the relationship makes the journey more enjoyable if you like each other! My audiologists know I self advocate for my hearing and are willing to take the time to adjust ad nauseum until I am satisfied. May I have your permission to print and hand out to my hard of hearing clients who are reluctant to get a hearing aid or to see an audiologist???

  5. I visit my audiologist for the routine hearing test (audiogram), change tubing, (I do request dri tubing), or repair. So far I have needed two repairs in 13 years for $100 each time. She fitted me in year 2000 with hearing aids that still help me hear quite well in a noisy restuarant or quiet room. The telecoils work well with induction loops and assitive listening equipment. When I take off these two hearing aids to get a shampoo and style the shop is quiet and my stylist makes sure I see his face when talking. I know I have a great audiologist because when I place each hearing aid in my ear after the hair style the world opens up with sound that I can hear. I have recommended my audiologist to members in my HLAA Chapter and they have all been satisified with their hearing aids. This is what tells an excellent audiologist from a unsatisfactory one.

  6. Very well put. Great insight from the HOH trenches! As you say, without a doubt, not all hearing care providers are created equal (audiologist or dispenser).

  7. My audiologist has been with me from the very beginning, 20 years now, and was the person who prescribed my first hearing aids when I was just shy of 5 years old. She is great, very sensitive to the issues at hand (although she herself does not have a hearing loss), and I feel very confident that I am in good hands with her. I would only switch audiologists if she or I moved away permanently.

  8. Great article. I love my son’s audiologist, we get along great. I know another parent that had a very different experience with the same audie, though. And I think the lesson to get from that is this: we’re all people, with our own personalities, and we need to find someone we click with. If you don’t click with someone (whether it’s an audiologist, SLP, doctor, or other professional), change if you can! You might find someone you click with. And the audiologist might, too.

  9. I love the fact that you love your audiologist! I have to add a comment though. At a recent meeting of rehabilitative audiologisrs, one person with hearing loss commented that she “only talked to her audiologist about her hearing loss”. My first thought, as an audiologist was “great”! My second thought was “that is awful!”. We need people, both professionals and persons with hearing loss, to talk to everyone!!! Hearing loss is usually invisible. People with normal hearing do not understand, and we need to let them know what is happening. When I tell people I am an audiologist they assume I know sign language. When I then tell them I have had about 10 people in 25 years who sign, they get a confused look. It is a srtuggle!

  10. I have had only one audiologist and she is fantastic. I have had her since I was diagnosed and she has been my audiologist for 17 years. She sure knows her stuff :D

  11. I have really adored my audiologists. Now as a man I sense it might sound odd to love your female audiologist. So I will just say I adore her. But, we interact and talk deeply about the technology and the sociological elements that impact the hearing impaired and their support systems. She does not have a hearing loss, but really has deep academic and professional experience that spans several decades. She works in a teaching medical school/clinic environment. She services both my CI and my HA and Wednesday, if the funding is all there, looking at a new super power aid from Oticon. Phonax family of devices just not strong enough in an initial run through test.

  12. I love both of my audiologists. My CI person is 80 miles from home so I see here seldom. I see my hearing aid audie often as she has become a member of HLAA & our chapter. I recently spent time with audie Juliette Sperkens who is traveling the country on behalf of the Loop America drive. I don’t see how anyone could help but love Juliette. A good audie needs to know a lot more than how to fit hearing aids. The ones I have mentioned score mighty high in their knowledge of us, the folks with the hearing loss.

  13. Gael,

    Touching stories! You’re Audie reminds me of dentist who ask you questions while the drill and their hands are deep inside your mouth.
    One thing I think is KEY to a good relationship with an Audie is that big confession We are HOH!
    If one is in denial, a good relationship with an audie will be difficult. That 14% sounds about right, so any are in denial about hearing loss and no one wants to be HOH!
    I was fitted with HA when I was six and grew up under the guidance of a great little firm. As ownership changed and care continued, I had a relationship that most people never gain. I’m trying to establish a strong relationship now but the understanding on the other side of the table doesn’t quite hit the mark.

    I still laugh when I think about your performance in Vancouver, BC.

    Victor

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