Learn to hear again with some help


By Stephen P. Tobias

We have all heard of the people that get hearing aids and put them in the drawer after trying them a few times. I’d like to offer an explanation as to why this happens.

It’s easy to see that there must be an issue with the comfort, sound or performance. Did you know that hearing is a learned process and the more you wear your hearing aid, the faster your brain adapts and re-learns how to hear? Studies show that it may take up to a year for this process to take place.

Regarding comfort, your hearing aid should be so comfortable that you forget that you’re even wearing it. If it’s not comfortable, a skilled hearing aid specialist can accurately polish down any areas that may be causing the problem. If an aid is too loose, it can be made tighter right in the office in just 10 or 15 minutes using quick curing ultra violet plastics. A loose hearing aid can cause whistling and decrease hearing ability.

Now let’s talk performance, there are two areas of concern. Is the hearing aid programmed to fit your needs? I’ve seen people that have been unhappy for four or five years but with a simple change in the programming they are suddenly much happier and hearing better. Some issues are easy to correct but if you do not report them to your specialist and return for follow up check-ups, nothing will get done about it and they stay in the drawer or on your ear but not performing to their ability. Most digital hearing aids can adjust performance for soft, medium and loud sounds. The patient must report their issues and the specialist must play detective and solve the crime. It is a crime to spend thousands of dollars on hearing aids and not use them.

Another issue regarding performance is the nature of sensorineural hearing loss. The human inner ear is so complex that experts cannot begin to know all the workings of it. There are tens of thousands of nerve endings in the hearing nerve center, called the cochlea. When there is nerve damage, the other nerve endings must try to pick up the slack. The end result is that the brain receives a weakened or partial message. In background noise, the brain may not be receiving enough information from the cochlea to extract enough speech from the noise.

Think of the cochlear as a piano. If a piano is missing some strings, even Beethoven could not make it sound right. Therein lays the problem with nerve damage in the cochlea: the brain does not get a complete signal from the ears. Most people still hear better with hearing aids but must keep their expectations realistic. A dedicated board certified hearing instrument specialist or audiologist can work with you to get the most out of your hearing and hearing aids. Make sure that you communicate your problems with them.

Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, said that if she could have one of her senses she would pick hearing. Her reason was that hearing connects us with other people. So do what you can to hear your best and stay connected.

Stephen Tobias is a board certified hearing instrument specialist and president of Tobias Hearing Aids, Inc. 382 Quincy Ave, Quincy, Mass., 02169. He can be reached at 617-770-3395 Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-4 p.m., by email at tobiashrng@verizon.net or through his website, www.tobiashearing.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com