By Chelle Wyatt
Hearing aids are expensive and it is a bit overwhelming going in for many first-timers. Not all hearing professionals are created equal and there are some things they don’t tell us. Here are some guidelines written with first-timers in mind, so they can feel a little more confident going in.
The Hearing Test
What’s the difference between a Hearing Instrument Specialist (HIS) and Audiologist (AuD)? Audiologists go to school for 5-7 years at the university level and receive a doctorate in audiology. They are able to give a more complete hearing evaluation. Hearing instrument specialists train for a couple of years, they offer basic hearing tests and sell hearing aids. There are good audiologists and bad audiologist. There are good hearing instrument specialists and bad hearing instrument specialists. No matter which professional you see, you should feel comfortable with them and they should make you feel welcome to come back as often as needed.
What should you expect for a hearing test?
They should make sure you do not have a wax buildup. If you have a buildup, that should be removed before hearing tests.
A discussion about your lifestyle and where you will be using your hearing aids on a day to day basis.
A pure tone test (listening for the beeps) and a word discrimination test.
Other tests may be performed as well. They will find a comfortable, programmed level according to your hearing loss to simulate what hearing aids can do. Keep in mind this will be in a quiet environment and will not reflect many hearing situations you encounter in real life. We will discuss different programming options shortly.
Getting Hearing Aids
What to expect after testing. The hearing loss professional should explain your hearing loss to you. Is it conductive, sensorineural (missing certain frequencies only) or mixed? It the loss mild, moderate, severe or profound? How will the hearing loss affect the sounds of speech for you? Get a copy of your audiogram to keep for future reference.
Hearing Aid Options. The main brands are: Oticon, Phonak, Resound, Siemens, Starkey and Widex. There are a variety of sizes too which range from tiny and inserted into the ear to behind the ear. The bigger the hearing aid, the more programming options available. There are also a variety of colors available for hearing aids and hearing molds. You can get a color to blend with your hair or you can choose a fun color.
*When ordering hearing aids, make sure you have a telecoil in it as well as Bluetooth. Hearing professionals will say it’s old technology but it is useful in a variety of situations (see below).
Programming Options. There are multiple programming options available for hearing aids. Generally 3-5 options are available per hearing aids. Here are some of the options available.
Comfort program, also called noisy setting or restaurant setting. These programs try to cut out background noise by focusing the microphones forward.
Stroll for listening to voices side to side. Also works great in the car.
Telecoils pick up a magnetic sound signal from phones, neckloops (replaces headphones and earbuds) and rooms equipped with hearing loops. It can cut out all surrounding noises (coughing, talking, papers crinkling) and focus only on the sound source.
Bluetooth also reduces surrounding sounds to focus on personal devices; the phone, the computer, the TV.
Music, because we hear music differently than we do speech.
Speech in Wind helps cut back the noise of wind on the microphones.
Tinnitus for those who have a hard time with ringing of the ears in quiet environments. It introduces soothing sounds such as ocean waves or chimes.
Ask about other options.
Some people like multiple options and others like only two programs. It’s up to you.
Bundled pricing and programming.
When getting hearing aids you buy them in a bundled price which includes up to 5 years of programming and minor maintenance. Take advantage of this by going back as often as needed until you are happy with your hearing aids. You are the boss, go back until you are satisfied. Keep a list of noises you don’t like and share it with your hearing professional. He/she will be able to program the hearing aids better with specific information.
You should have 30-90 days to trial hearing aids, ask how long you have to trail the hearing aids. If you aren’t happy with them, try another brand. The different brands may ‘hear’ differently. You may have to pay for different ear molds but you should not have to pay for any portion of the hearing aid. Hearing aid brands seem to be an individual preference; while one person may love one particular brand another may not like them at all.
Hearing aids aren’t called ‘hearing miracles’ for a reason.
They will not replace the normal hearing you lost but they should make a difference. Hearing aids are only good in a 4 to 6 foot range, after that their effectiveness diminish. Though you will voices from other rooms, you still won’t be able to understand everything said. You won’t hear sermons at church or teachers from the back of the room, to work well you need to be within 4-6 feet or use an assistive listening device (ALD). Bad acoustics will also affect hearing aids in a negative way, hard surfaces cause reverberation which confuse hearing aids. Although hearing aids have improved a great deal, they can still be difficult in noisy settings. You may also have a hard time figuring out which direction voices and noise come from.
Assistive listening devices (ALDs) to bridge the distance gap.
People are happier with their hearing aids when paired with assistive listening devices. Many venues, classrooms and meeting places have ALDs available, look for the symbols below. If it has a T in the corner, it means a hearing loop is available and you will not have to pick up a device as long as you have a telecoil in your hearing aid.
Most devices come with headphones, however headphones over hearing aids might cause feedback and you may still hear too much surrounding noise. Ask for neckloop instead which is a wire that lays around the neck and plugs into the ALD or any audio source. Personal ALDs may help in cars and large gatherings as well.
All that said, hearing aids should improve your life. Some other things I might add to make your experience even better is…
Be upfront about your hearing loss. There’s no shame in hearing loss anymore than there is someone using a wheelchair. Most people are good and want to help, don’t let a few bad experiences shut you down.
Even with hearing aids you will need people to get your attention before they start talking, this will cut back on repeats.
Even with hearing aids, people will need to face you when talking. This gets the sound to come right at you and believe it or not, you are using some minor lipreading skills, especially if you’ve been losing your hearing awhile.
Number one is up to the hearing aid user, that is your responsibility. Numbers 2 and 3 are both people’s responsibility, the hearing person and the person with hearing loss. Communication goes both ways, if they don’t do their part how on earth will you ever be able to do your part? You will have to remind them often.
To those who have hearing aids already, what other advice would you offer?
Chelle Wyatt works for the Utah Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing as a Hard of Hearing Specialist. She’s been a long time member of the SayWhatClub finding her tribe and gaining valuable experience with volunteer work through them.