“I can hear better than when I could hear!”
My friend Alex messaged me yesterday with the news; he had finally succumbed to the reality of his hearing loss and got hearing aids. I understood what he meant – he was amazed at how clearly he could hear.
I’m not sure what degree of hearing loss Alex has or what he experienced when he first wore them. But for most first-time users, especially those with higher degrees of hearing loss, the first few days can seem like all hell has broken loose – and I write from painful, personal experience. It’s hard to overstate the shockwaves of sound those ear-babies deliver when you first venture out into the big, wide world.
I was 21 when I received my first hearing aid. It was large, ugly and beige but, at the time, I didn’t care; I was finally getting one. (My doctor wouldn’t prescribe one for years due to the prevailing mis-wisdom of the time.) When I left the office of my hearing aid dispenser, it was a mind-blowing walk to my father’s office a few blocks away. It sounded and felt like an earthquake erupting, and the metallic screeching of buses and cars sounded like screeching monsters in a Marvel film. I lurched and jerked along the sidewalk, reacting physically to every brutal noise. By the time I reached my father office, I was a blubbering mess. It was a couple of weeks before I put it on again.
There is alway a breaking-in phase, whether it’s the first hearing aid or the latest in a long line of devices. The brain needs time to adjust and the process is different for everyone. How quickly and well people adapt to their first hearing aid(s) depends on a variety of factors including:
- how much they want them in the first place
- severity of hearing loss
- their ability to understand how to use the various setting, when used alone and when connecting to other devices
- their level of patience when they don’t understand how how to use them
- their manual dexterity in performing tasks such as changing small batteries and even tinier wax guards
I’ve never cared much about how hearing aids work. That’s not my job – I am the beneficiary, the user, the appreciator of the technology created by really smart people. It took a couple of sets of hearing aids to achieve this state of appreciation; I was, after all, a young hearing aid user in a time when hearing loss wasn’t out of the closet. Now, I really don’t care what the technology looks like as long as it works and it’s comfortable. OK, it also cannot be butt-ugly or beige, but that’s just a personal preference.
I’m sure the hearing aid always looks a bit foul to the first-time user, and when we look at ourselves dead-on in the mirror, we can’t see what other people see, the side view. Is it subtle or is it a flashing advertisement – Person With Hearing Loss Here!
Some hearing-aid users don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like. I once met a senior couple, husband and wife philanthropists who had come to observe a presentation I was giving. The gentleman was distinguished and well-dressed, his dapper look somewhat sabotaged by little Martian-like sensors sticking out from his ears.
These pull-strings are designed to make hearing aids easy to remove. My pull-strings usually fall off with the help of scissors. But this gentleman was clearly new to hearing aids. When we talked afterwards, I told him that he could have the pull-strings modified or even removed. His wife turned on him, saying, “You SEE, John? I TOLD you! They’re NOT supposed to look like THAT! They are EMBARRASSING!” I was amazed that John’s hearing care professional let him leave the clinic looking like a tall alien.
Today’s hearing aids are amazing marvels of technology. They are streamlined, clever and powerful – so that when the adjustment period is over, the person can say with delight – “I can hear better than when I could hear!”
Was it that way for you?