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Adapting to hearing aids is slightly more complex than simply flipping on a light switch. One statistic that contributes to this phase of adaptation is that most people wait an average of ten years since the onset of hearing loss before they choose to intervene.
The brain has become used to a narrower band of sound information coming through and the addition of hearing aids can lead to feelings of overwhelm. That’s why there are steps you can take to make this a more seamless process and ultimately find a successful hearing future.
How hearing loss works
Hearing aids do not restore hearing to previous levels. The reason for this is that our sense of hearing is an elaborate symphony of contributing parts. The shape of the ear acts as a conduit for sound, bringing noise to the inner ear. Here, the inner ear cells (called stereocilia) wait to receive that noise and do the important work of turning into sound information in the form of electrical impulses. That sound information is transported to the brain via the auditory nerve, where meaning happens in the brain’s processing centers.
However, the role of the inner ear cells is integral to the hearing process. And their number is finite because they do not repair themselves or reproduce. The number of stereocilia we are born with are what we have to work with.
In cases of age-related and noise-induced hearing loss, those cells are damaged and lost due to time or exposure to excessive noise. The number of inner ear cells we are working with declines. When the number of cells lost reaches a tipping point, we no longer hear the full spectrum of sounds. Many people with early hearing loss first lose access to high frequency sounds, like children’s voices or birdsong. Speech clarity becomes an issue and conversations much more frustrating and sometimes futile.
Tips for adjusting to new hearing aids
Work with realistic expectations
The adjustment period will be as long as you need it to be, but many experts advise keeping a timeframe of as long as four months in mind. Contrary to putting on eyeglasses, when your vision will automatically adjust, hearing works differently. You need to give yourself ample time to learn to ‘hear’ certain frequencies and volumes again.
Keeping this realistic timeframe in mind can help provide a dose of patience if you feel frustrated a few weeks in. It might help to set short term goals, so that each week brings a new success and keeps you motivated on your journey.
Practice makes perfect
Think about the first few weeks of wearing your hearing aids as though you are starting a new workout program, aiming to target muscles you haven’t used in a while. It’s always a good idea to follow a schedule set out by your audiologist, but you could set small, daily goals at first. Perhaps you wear your hearing aids for twenty minute increments at first, slowly building up your tolerance. Taking breaks is a great way to give your brain and nervous system a rest, but the trick is to keep coming back to wearing your hearing aids. Eventually, wearing them all day will feel ‘normal’ to you as a larger spectrum of sounds will return.
Keep fitting and maintenance appointments
You might be tempted to grab your new hearing aids and think that you’ll figure the rest out on your own. While the confidence is worth applause, your audiologist’s office offers a wealth of resources and support. As you wear your hearing aids, you’ll begin to notice how they’re actually working. You can report this data back to your audiologist where they’ll work with you to further refine the settings and fit of your hearing aids. The payoff here is huge, because you’ll end up with hearing aids that are tailored specifically for you and boosting their performance.
Talk to other people with hearing aids
Finding a group of people who are going through similar challenges has been shown to increase emotional happiness, feelings of community and overall wellness. This is true for wearing hearing aids, too. Your audiologist may be able to put you in touch with a support group that is local to your area. There are also internet-based support groups for people with hearing aids located throughout the country. You can look them up online or search via Facebook.
Schedule an annual hearing test
It’s likely that the way you hear will continue to change over time. By maintaining an annual hearing exam with your audiologist, you can stay on top of changing patterns in hearing loss. Plus, you’ll be able to have real-time adjustments to your hearing aids or be ready to move onto a new pair that best suits your future needs.