By Lolly Wigall
Browsing the web is so easy today. While I was listening to a podcast I heard a statistic that was staggering: Seventy percent of Americans now have a smart phone.
In 2007, the iPhone was introduced. It has changed how we use our phones, listen to music, listen to Podcasts, play games, use apps, look for information, and just plain function on a daily basis. In just seven years cell phones have made a tremendous impact on our lives. People of all ages have cell phones.
We don’t just use our phones to make calls. Data usage doubled last year. When you go to the Web on a smart phone you use mobile data. Smart phones have a GPS function. It is kind of scary to go online looking for a restaurant, and the phone asks you if it can use your current location. The phone knows where we are on the earth! It is helpful when the phone can also give you directions to a new location. I personally find it helpful to find store locations and immediately the store website is visible. I like that I can see the store hours and know if they are open now or not.
We were looking for Christmas cookies to mail to my family in California. It was great to do a search and see many options available. My husband and I could search each company’s website to decide which cookies to order and select the delivery date. It was very helpful.
A NEW TYPE OF PATIENTS
Recently we had a new patient come into the office. He had had a hearing test somewhere. I don’t know if the test was done online or in person, by a hearing instrument specialist or an audiologist. He did not bring the test with him. He had done research on the Web and decided which make and model of hearing aids he wanted. He wanted us to program them, but he did not want any services such as follow-up or batteries.
He was willing to let us do a test so we could program the aids, but he was only going to pay what he deemed was the correct price for the aids.
I don’t know his profession, his training, his expertise or his experience, or how he decided which make and model of hearing aids to select. Since we had not done a hearing test, we didn’t even know what his hearing was.
When I talk to other audiologists in private practice they report noticing the same trend. People without any experience with hearing aids are conducting research on the web and deciding which make and models are “the best for them.” There is definitely a lot of information about hearing aids on the web. Numerous blogs express opinions about features of certain models of hearing aids. Many consumers give their opinions about hearing aid makes and models. It is good that people can express their opinions and experiences with particular hearing aids.
But hearing loss affects different individuals in different ways. Hearing loss in certain frequency regions has different effects on one’s ability to hear and understand speech than does hearing loss at other frequencies. Some people cannot tolerate loud sounds, while others don’t mind sudden sharp noises such as a dog barking. Some people have more trouble understanding consonants than others do who have similar hearing losses. And, the age when a person started to lose their hearing and the age when the person decided to purchase hearing aids can also affect the outcome.
However, many people don’t seem to understand is that hearing loss is not a “one size fits all” condition.
Finally, to me, the biggest factor is that there is no “hearing center” in the brain. Hearing and understanding are greatly affected by one’s ability to process the speech and sounds that are being introduced into the brain. Every sense, vision, taste, touch, and smell can affect how the brain interprets a sound. Crinkling paper and fire crackling are two similar sounds. But, when a person sees fire and smells smoke, the brain interprets the sounds differently than if the person hearing the noise is looking at someone reading a newspaper.
MAKING A DECISION
Deciding on the make and model of hearing aids can be a daunting task even for a trained and experienced practitioner. Listening to the patient and their struggles plays a huge part in deciding which features a person may or may not need. Learning about a patient’s personal priorities for hearing better affects which make and model we select. A patient’s ability to handle batteries and to put their hearing aids in and out on a regular basis is an important consideration.
Vanity plays a part too. If a person needs power hearing aids but refuses to wear them, then purchasing products that will not be worn is a waste of money. On the other hand, some patients want to make a fashion statement by purchasing a red or blue hearing aid.
Purchasing hearing aids is not similar to purchasing magnifying glasses to read the menus at restaurants. Personally, I cannot use magnifying glasses; I need custom lenses. My glasses are expensive because I need bifocals. But, many friends buy $10 glasses at the drug store, and coordinate them to their daily outfits. We have different needs based on our vision. Some people’s vision problems are more complicated than others’.
It’s the same with hearing.
Some people’s hearing problems are more complicated than others. It takes a trained professional to sift through the information to obtain the best results.
Doing research on the Web about hearing aids can be helpful to consumers. Learning about hearing aid features can give them some insight on the capabilities of hearing aids today. But, not every hearing aid user needs every feature that’s available. Some features can make wearing the aids more complicated for the wearer.
I have been fitting hearing aids since the mid 1970s. I still like the “keep it simple” method for most hearing aid wearers. True, hearing aids have changed dramatically over the years. But, the bottom line is still the same: Hearing-impaired people need to wear their hearing aids in order to benefit from them. If the aids are not programmed properly and adjusted over time to meet the wearer’s needs and wants, they will not be worn. The aids will end up in the drawer collecting dust.
Do yourself a favor; go see a trained professional for your hearing test and hearing aids. Then make sure you go to follow-up appointments and talk to the professional about your frustrations and concerns. Only in this way will you achieve the best results and hear better.