Hearing aids are adjustable, but am I?

I have written recent articles about the adjustability of digital hearing aids. After the second of these articles was published someone asked me, “Yes, but will I adjust to the hearing aids?”

That is a great question. The very last thing I say to patients as they leave my office with their new hearing aids is to “remember it is an adjustment process.” The answer is yes, you will adjust.

Often new hearing aid users are surprised by what they are able to hear with their new hearing aids. Everyday sounds like water hitting the sink may sound louder, rustling paper sounds sharper, voices sound clearer, and even one’s own voice will sound different. Often patients are surprised to hear the sound of their own footsteps, birds chirping in the morning, or the blinker in the car. I just had a lady come back for her one week follow-up appoint and told me she heard her turn signals for the first time in five years.

Because loudness is a perception, these sounds seem significantly louder than they used to seem, and even louder than the new hearing aid user remembers. This perception that environmental sounds and voices sound different and louder than remembered will eventually moderate as the hearing aids continue to be worn and as the brain acclimatizes to the new sounds heard. Just like the feeling of the wristwatch that is noticed less and less as it is worn; these sounds will become less noticeable as the hearing aids are used.

This change in perception, in which hearing aid wearers become more comfortable with the sounds they hear, demonstrates that the brain can change. The change takes place as the brain becomes better at understanding the sounds that it hears when one is wearing appropriately fit hearing aids.

Research on an individual’s adjustment to hearing aids tells us that our brains can still continue to change and thereby increase the benefits derived from hearing aids up to nine months after the initial hearing aid fitting. This is an important fact to keep in mind when we think about hearing in difficult listening environments, such as experienced in a busy restaurant. The first time a new hearing aid wearer visits a noisy restaurant will turn out to be a somewhat different experience from visiting that same noisy restaurant six months later. If you are new to hearing aids, or think that you should probably have your hearing tested, please consult a qualified hearing professional.

Also, please remember that your brain plays a very important role in hearing, and while your brain has the ability to change, those changes can take time, … and patience. Hearing aids are not like new eye glasses. We put on our new pair of glasses and keep going. Hearing aids are a measurable improvement to our hearing and as I said above, sounds are recognized louder and clearer which is a good thing. Unlike new eye glasses we have to focus on the adjustment to hearing aids. So will the new patient adjust? Certainly. With patience and the help of your hearing professional, you can do it! Your improved hearing is well worth the adjustment process.

If you have the symptoms of hearing loss let a professional help you find out why. The hearing professional will help you sort out the technology level to meet your need, your budget, and answer your hearing need questions.

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Jeff Bayliff, NBC-HIS, is owner of Hear the Birds Hearing Aid Center, Lock Haven.

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