Successful Hearing Aid Use, Part 12: What is a “Special Listening Program”?

Bob Martin
June 5, 2013

A few months ago on this blog, I discussed using a “special listening program” to reduce unwanted noise. Such programs help you hear better in various situations, including when you’re in a crowd or on the telephone. Not all hearing aids come with multiple listening programs, so if you think you would benefit from this capacity, check to see if your hearing aids have buttons or switches that activate unique listening programs.

To get a clearer understanding of the concept of “listening programs” let’s compare hearing aids with eyeglasses. Most people are familiar with “bifocal” lenses. The upper lens is designed for long-distance vision, the lower lens is designed for reading and other close-up work.

With glasses, bifocals employ different strategies (corrections) for the same eyes; with hearing aids, listening programs employ different strategies for the same ears.

Many hearing aids use the battery as an on-and-off switch. You open the door of the battery case, and the aid shuts off. Close the battery door and the aid is turned on.

When you close the battery door in the morning, most hearing aids turn on in the basic (default) mode. This setting provides good amplification for use around the house. You change the listening program by pushing a button on the hearing aid or remote control. Each time the button is pushed, the hearing aid “beeps” to tell you the program is being changed.

Some hearing aids come with multiple listening programs, as many as five or more in some cases. But you may not want to use more than one program. Your hearing care provider can turn them on or off as desired.



You may ask, “Do I really need special programs? I just want to put my hearing aid on and hear well. I don’t want to be pushing buttons.”

The answer to this depends on your lifestyle. Let’s consider two patients: Suzanne, an older lady with a mild hearing loss, and Dianne, a younger professional woman with a severe hearing loss.

Suzanne’s main problems are hearing at home and in meetings. She has a mild-to-moderate hearing loss and wants to keep everything simple. She was successfully fitted with hearing aids that have no wheels to turn and no buttons to push. She simply puts them on and wears them. All adjustments to changing sound occur automatically. The audiologist does all the work so Suzanne doesn’t have to adjust the volume or switch between programs.

In stark contrast, Dianne is a schoolteacher who has a severe hearing loss in both ears. She needs help in the classroom and in the cafeteria, on her cell phone, and at the symphony. Dianne has complex hearing needs, which make her an excellent candidate for a multi-program hearing aid system.

One program is dedicated to hearing well in the classroom (listening at distances greater than 20 feet), another program is designed for the noisy cafeteria, and a third program connects her to her cell phone. Dianne’s busy, demanding life puts her in a much wider range of listening environments than Suzanne’s does. She also has a greater degree of hearing loss.

In conclusion, a wonderful hearing aid is one that solves your problems and is easy to use. Some patients want and need simplicity, and we have hearing aids that offer that. Others need to maximize their hearing ability in very difficult listening situations, like taking care of noisy children.

The capacity of some hearing aids to offer different listening programs allows audiologists to shape sound in order to reach the specific goals that will help the patient most.

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