What I (Don’t) Know About Hearing Aids

For first-time users, wearing hearing aids can be a love-hate affair. The ‘love’ might be better termed as an “OK, fine, I’ll-wear-them” type of emotion.

For people who have worn hearing aids for a long time, there’s more love than hate. And a better term for ‘hate’ might be ‘mild irritation with’ or ‘wouldn’t it be nice not to wear them’.

Today’s hearing aids are amazing mini-computers that take incoming information – and turn it into meaningful sound. And that’s all I really know about how hearing aids work, although I can name many of its parts, at least the external ones.

What else do we know? When properly fitted and programmed, HEARING AIDS:

  • Immediately take us from a world of faint, garbled or non-existent sounds to something much, much better.
  • Should be worn every day, all day for maximum benefit. Some exceptions are allowed and even encouraged – when bathing or sleeping, for example.
  • Should feel weightless and motionless in the ear, with almost no intrusion into a person’s thoughts or actions. (My earmold can shift a bit after a lot of head movement because – and many an audi has tried to fix this problem, I simply have an ornery ear canal, requiring occasional pushing in a titch.)
  • Help tell us where a sound is coming from. Improved localization ability points us to where the bird is singing or where a person is speaking. Some of us aren’t quite so lucky, with a ‘stronger ear’ tells us the sound is coming from over there to the right (or left), when it may be somewhere in the other direction. There’s a 25% chance of being right, as the sound is just as likely coming from the front, back or left side – good odds
  • Come in a range of colors, a major breakthrough for modern hearing aid users. For years I had a choice of light beige, medium beige or darker beige. I hate beige.
  • Require some manual dexterity to change the battery, even more to change the wax guard if somehow the white thingy falls off before you’ve got it in securely. It happens.
  • Require proper care and cleaning for best performance. Regular maintenance includes removing guck out of air vents, changing the wax guards, wiping down the surface, and changing the tips when necessary. It’s amazing how crisp things sound without having to fight its way through cerumen (the pretty name for earwax). Periodic visits to the hearing clinic for internal cleaning are advised.
  • Can take a lot of abuse, but the trauma should be accidental, not intentional. Dropping it or almost drowning it in the shower are forgivable and usually the device can bounce back with a bit of coaxing. Throwing it on the ground in a fury and pounding it with your heel is not nice, a waste of energy, and possibly expensive.
  • Will have telecoils as well as Bluetooth capability to allow connection with other devices such as phones and  smartphones, TV, external microphones in social situations, etc. 

What I don’t know about hearing aids is how all the technical, digital, magnetic, and electrical processes actually occur to help us hear. But my audiologist does and I trust her. I also don’t know why they have to cost so much. I know, I know. I know all the reasons given by both the manufacturers and retailers. Still, people shouldn’t have to save up to buy a hearing aid. You save up for holidays, not medical necessities.

Hearing aids have been my constant companion for a long, long time. Without it, I feel lopsided and vulnerable. With it, I can hear and connect.

What else do I need to know?

 

Photo: Broadmead Hearing

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.

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