Neil Bauman

c 1999

QUESTION:  How does wearing hearing aids help you hear better? --R.C.

ANSWER:  That's a good question. Hearing aids help us hear better by making sounds louder to compensate for our diminished hearing. That is their primary purpose and they do quite a good job of it too in many cases. However, hearing aids do other things such as processing sounds and attempting to filter out undesirable noise. Perhaps the most common thing they do is compress sounds to fit our reduced dynamic hearing range and thus limit the volume of loud sounds so they don't hurt our ears.

For example, when I listen to classical music without my hearing aids, the volume appears to vary dramatically. When only the strings are playing I often don't hear anything and if I turn the volume up to hear these fainter sounds when the whole orchestra fires up that volume hurts my ears. As a result, it is very hard to enjoy such music. However, when wearing my hearing aids, they amplify the soft sounds so I can hear them and at the same time tone down the loud sounds so I can bear them. The result is that I enjoy listening to music much more with my hearing aids on.

One word of caution. As good as modern hearing aids are, you need to remember that they are only aids to better hearing. They do NOT restore hearing to normal. Hearing aids are far from perfect. At best they typically only restore your hearing to the equivalent of a mild loss. Many first-time hearing aid users don't like the unnatural sounds they now hear and all the noise they now have to try to hear through. This is not so much the fault of the hearing aids as it is of our faulty ears.

When we lose our hearing to some degree or other, strange things happen to our hearing system. One of these is that we can't filter out extraneous noise like we used to. Another is that we no longer hear clearly. Now, to us sounds are "fuzzy" or"blurry". Generally the worse our hearing loss is, the fuzzier our hearing becomes. This means that we often cannot distinguish between two words that are similar in frequency, for example, "sun"and "fun".

Therefore, we need more help. Hearing aids alone are not the total answer. One of the most effective helps is speechreading. (Lip reading was the old term.) With speechreading the words "sun" and "fun" are relatively easy to distinguish. So,for example, I may hear the "un" sound and speechread the "s" or the "f" sound. Then my brain puts the two together and I understand what was said.

Speechreading only lets you really see about 35% of English words so there is a lot of guessing involved. Obviously speechreading is far from perfect, but I'd never want to be without it. It helps me that much.

Hearing aids alone also only let you hear (and understand) a fraction of what is said. Here are the results of a study that I have included from one of my forthcoming books.

"University of Manchester researchers found that hard of hearing people just using their residual hearing understood 21 percent of speech. If they combined their residual hearing with either a hearing aid or with speechreading, they could understand 64 percent of speech. This is a significant improvement. However, if they used their residual hearing and BOTH hearing aids and speechreading, their speech comprehension soared to 90 percent!"

Obviously the best way to communicate is to wear hearing aids AND at the same time speechread. Don't expect your hearing aids alone to solve your hearing difficulties.

Incidentally, women (on the average) are much better at speechreading than men. (Sorry guys, but that's just the way God made us.) I am one of the better male speechreaders I know, but there are women that make me look like I'm still in kindergarten. (It's just not fair--and I have over 50 years of daily experience.) 

QUESTION:  I am interested in the auditory-verbal approach for my child. It teaches a child to listen in a different way than a normal hearing child and to comprehend what is being said. Some examples had "deaf" kids (wearing their hearing aids) behind a door and they could understand what was being said by the person on the other side.--B.C.

ANSWER:  This can work to a certain extent,but it is much harder on the child--much more tiring and stressful. It's like dressing yourself with one hand behind your back. It may be possible but it is so frustrating. Why ever would you want to do that?

As I said in the answer to the previous question, our hearing is not only softer, but fuzzier so just listening no matter how hard we do it can NEVER make it crystal clear. And this is something that hearing providers don't seem to get through their heads. That is why we use all the ways we can to get the message and it is hard enough as it is without limiting that to our ears alone. I would never want to be denied speechreading. My eyes are as mucha part of my "hearing" as my ears and hearing aids are.

When a person asks me, "Did you hear me?" often I honestly don't know. My brain uses what my eyes see (speechreading) and what my ears hear and put the two together to get the message. If I want to find out how much understanding speechreading accounts for, I just shut my eyes and then it becomes obvious I miss so much more then.

Neil Bauman (Connect/Network) has a severe hearing loss.He is a "Hearing Loss Coping Skills" instructor. He speaks and writes on hearing loss issues.Send your questions to him at