Make Patients Feel the Joy of Hearing Better

Bob Martin
February 19, 2014

Humans are funny creatures. We have a great capacity for logical thought and reasoning, but much of the time we fall back on our primeval emotions: caution, fear, and anxiety.

It is easy for us to “think” about something that is good for us – an exercise or diet plan comes to mind, but it is often difficult for us to change our habits and start a new behavior.

There is a strategy I have learned that is very helpful in this area: Infuse the new task with a large charge of “happy emotion,” the type of elation you would feel if you were on your way to your favorite vacation spot. Getting out of the “thinking” part of the brain and into the “happiness” part opens doors and allows you to initiate new behaviors.

As an example, let me tell you about when I got my first pair of glasses. I got my eyes tested and the doctor ordered a pair of glasses. When I went to his office to get them, I sat down in a chair with the new glasses beside me.

At that point, the doctor was called away by his staff. Not wanting to wait for his return, I picked up the glasses and put them on. Wow! Double wow!! I could really see. All the tiny details on the posters in the room were suddenly crystal clear. I choked up as my emotions boiled over. I was not going blind; I simply needed glasses. And with them I could see fantastically!

That experience took place almost 40 years ago, yet I still remember vividly the room, the glasses, and the feeling of wonder at being able to see well.



This surge of happiness is the emotional environment we need to create when we give people a new set of hearing aids. Sure, we need to teach them and help them learn the basics. But our task is not complete until the patient feels the joy, the pure pleasure of being able to hear well.

Here is how I create that feeling. Before a new hearing aid patient leaves my office, I tell the patient and the family, “I need to check these settings.” I take a very careful look at the degree of the hearing loss and type of fitting and then construct a simple black and white demonstration. The demonstration is designed so that the patient will have excellent hearing with the hearing aids on and hear poorly (or not at all) without them.

In designing the demonstration, I determine a distance (say 10 feet) and a type of test words (say monosyllables) that the patient will be unable to hear and repeat at that distance. I instruct the patient, “Close your eyes and say these words.”

The demonstration begins with the patient not wearing hearing aids. I walk ten feet away from the patient and continue to speak. At this point, if I have calculated correctly, the patient will not be able to repeat any words. I then put the hearing aids on the patient and continue saying words and asking the patient to repeat them.

Wearing the hearing aids, the patient is suddenly able to hear and repeat the words. At this critical juncture, I tell the patient, “Look at your family. They are all smiling.” (I learned this from Roy Bain). And, sure enough, when the patient looks at his wife and children they are not only smiling, they are bubbling over with pleasure. They say things like, “Wow, you can really hear now! We’re going to have to be careful when we talk about you.”

It is important that this “surge of happiness” continue for the first two or three weeks after the patient takes the hearing aids home. To help make this happen, I tell family members to have the patient listen to the TV (set at a normal level) with and without hearing aids. This is often an effective way of demonstrating the benefits of wearing hearing aids. It focuses the patient and the family on tasks the patient can do easily: not only enjoying television, but also talking around the kitchen table and playing cards with friends.

I also tell all my patients that the sound in the hearing aids the day they pick them up is not the final setting. It is the getting-used-to-hearing-aids setting. After the patient becomes comfortable with the idea of wearing hearing aids, I re-adjust the settings, working toward “maximum hearing ability.”

Increasing the amplification gives us another opportunity to elicit reactions of “fun and wonderment.” Just as when the patient first puts the hearing aids on, you need to carefully select test words and testing conditions that will give the patient great word understanding when using the instruments and no word understanding without them.

  1. Excellent article. If more Hearing Instrument Specialists and Audiologist had this attitude and took this approach there would be far fewer hearing aids sitting in drawers and less resistance about wearing them.
    Thank you!

  2. This is very much what we do. Our whole clinical manual is based around it in our Melbourne clinic and in our tele-audiology service

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