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Getting new hearing aids: What I hear, what I don’t, and two places I love using them

Getting new hearing aids

I’ve worn hearing aids for 40 years, so getting new hearing aids can be sort of an emotional roller coaster for me. 

For my most recent fitting, I flew back from Mexico to Canada and had a time crunch of two weeks for my fittings, which didn’t leave a lot of time for hammering things out.

My new Phonak Naída V  hearing aids are fancy. They’re the hearing aid equivalent of buying a new, fully-loaded car. There aren’t many tricks they don’t do. But, while I was stoked to get really top-of-the-line new hearing aid technology, I was also concerned about how jarring a difference the generational technology gap would be from my seven-year-old hearing aids.

Turns out, it was a big jump.

My new hearing aids are basically like wearing smart computers in my ears. They hear sound and they go “OH I KNOW WHAT THAT IS” and then auto-adjust the aural settings so things are amplified or toned down automatically. Riding on a train, the “train sound” is muffled. Noisy environment? Some frequencies are dampened while, say, speech is more clear. I kid you not, these are SMART gadgets.

Spoiler? They’re pretty cool. I dig my new hearing aids. They’re adding a lot to my life and that’s what they’re supposed to do.

But was it a smooth ride? It was not.

If you’re getting new hearing aids, let’s be real: For many of us, it’s a tricky adjustment. There can be errors in setting the hearing aids up. You could have had a bad audiological test resulting in incorrect frequencies. Factory default settings can be out of whack.

LOTS can go awry. For me, that’s how it went. My basic presets were set up wrong and this meant that all the “smart” tech in my hearing aids were auto-adjusting for sound was way off-base and would happen at inopportune times. It’s like building a house; if the foundation is crooked, everything else will go awry too. Same thing with hearing aids. Basic presets are wrong? You’re in for an aural gong-show.

My experience getting new hearing aids

A week into my new hearing aids, I took some time out from the bustle of the city to cycle the seawall in Vancouver. Lapping water on the shore, the whizzing of bikes, a cascade of foreign language tourists raving about the scenery… it was a wonderful day.

This resulted in my whole world being noisy. What’s the point of getting new hearing aids and hearing everything louder if it makes the world sharp and grating, sound-wise? I heard the hydraulic whine of engines more. Buses were a nightmare. Cafés were full of clashing and clanging and breathing and voices. It was all so overwhelming.

What was stressing me, however, turned out to have a very simple solution! My super-audiologist Henry did some investigating and learned that the new technology in hearing aids is so smart and well-tuned that the exaggerated presets of my old ones were totally chaotic in the new, smarter, subtler programming of this model. He showed me the graph of what the old “custom preset” for my hearing should be, and the graph for what the Phonak audiologist suggested, and it was dramatically different on-screen, let alone in what I might hear.

Was I willing to give it a shot? Yep. You bet I was. Phonak built it, so they should know what works best. We plugged the new program into the hearing aids and the difference was night and day.

On the street and in cafés  

Suddenly all the scratchy, hissy, hydraulicky sounds I hated were all gone. In their place I heard rounded tones with less sharpness. I found silence where there should be silence. I had richer, deeper noises throughout. That feeling of being overwhelmed was gone.

I left my appointment and walked ten blocks to my favourite café, a place I’ve gone after every new hearing aid for the last 20 years. On my way, I just stopped and listened to noises. Cars sounded quieter yet had a deeper rumbling, and, surprisingly, I could more easily figure out which direction they were coming from, as well as heard them approach earlier. Now that’s a nice safety feature, especially when travelling!

Along the way, a woman walked past me with one of those thick, crackly grocery store paper bags I always hated, but the sound quality of the crumpling was now duller and less offensive and jarring.

Birdsong was lovely and melodic, but also more defined and complex. People’s voices were easier to register directionally, and I could make out more of what folks said when I eavesdropped.

My experience of getting new hearing aids

If there’s any one place I’ve traveled that I wish I could go back to with my new hearing aids, it’d be Scotland. I “cannae tell ye” how challenging those accents were with my old hearing aids, but I bet I’d make out a lot more of the Scottish brogue with my new ones. And, let’s face it, the best part of Scotland are the amazing, funny, kind Scots one meets along the way!

And it turns out that vibrating cell phones actually do make noise, something that was only a suggestion of sound before, but which now I can hear 15 feet away in a room, which I kind of love! I’ve missed so many important moments because I forgot to turn the silent-mode off on my phone, so this is a great thing for me, professionally, that I can hear the vibrating now.

It’s been just shy of four weeks with these new aids and I think what I hear is significant, but what I don’t hear is almost more significant. The level of white noise has fallen. Dramatically! That’s a big deal; it’s so omnipresent today. Why would hearing white noise benefit my life? It doesn’t. I don’t miss that at all. 

Another huge change for me is in conversations because I hear voice more clearly. I can distinguish speech better in a crowd. When I get a massage and I’m face-down on the table, these Naída V  hearing aids pick up sound behind me better than any I’ve ever had. That’s massive, since I have always supplemented my hearing technology with good old lip-reading.

Watching TV and movies 

A common way we hearing-impaired have always judged our hearing is with the one thing that’s tangible: television and audio devices. That’s the BIG test we do, isn’t it?

Before I left for Vancouver, I rented an old apartment in Oaxaca, Mexico, with stone floors and concrete walls. It was an echo factory, basically. Add in the shared courtyard between me and my next door neighbours, and it was echo madness.

Well, they hated me. I would watch Netflix and my laptop would be at top volume, and they’d come over and complain about it. It got so bad that I had to watch everything with headphones or incur their wrath, and that’s so uncomfortable – headphones on top of hearing aids, especially when the temperature “feels like” 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

So that’s the big test, right? Is TV-watching wrathless now?

You bet it is. I’m back in the same apartment and I now watch Netflix on the lowest volume level available. One notch lower and it’s on mute! Huzzah! Great day!

In fact, last night I almost went over to my neighbours to complain that I could hear THEIR television! But I was so happy about this development that I decided to give them a pass – and turn mine up a bit. And why not? I was at 1 of 10 notches for volume! Goodbye, headphones!

My experience getting new hearing aids

I may not (yet) speak the language, but it was really great having new hearing aids when I went to one of the oldest Sunday markets in all of Mesoamerica! From shouting vendors to clucking poultry, to nattering shoppers and sizzling meats on the grill, it’s a sound bonanza unlike many, and the Phonak Naídas did a great job of helping me hear my friends over all the crazy goings-on!

The lesson here is, don’t be shocked if your hearing aids don’t “sound right” at the beginning, and don’t give up! You know if you’re comfortable or happy with sound. Communicate with your audiologist. Tell them what’s going wrong. Make notes. Talk. Keep at it! These things are insanely customizable and it can take work to get it right.

I recommend having at least three weeks for your own fitting, because my two weeks were stressful and difficult for getting things sorted out.

In the future, I’ll share some tips with you about how to adapt to new hearing aids, because there’s nothing that makes me sadder than hearing about people getting fitted for new ones and then wearing them as little as possible. I’ll tell you all the coping strategies, how to talk to your audiologist, and ways to remind yourself what you’re doing all this for.

Meanwhile, I’ll be down here in Mexico, listening to fireworks blasting down the block, thunder rolling in the evenings, fiestas in the streets, dogs yapping on rooftops, kids kicking soccer balls in my hall, and so much more. It’s truly wonderful to have hearing aids that are amplifying my world around me to the levels I require, because what a rich and dynamic world it is – in Mexico or at home.

I’m so glad I’m not missing out on all this!

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Author Details
Steffani Cameron is a writer and photographer from Vancouver, Canada, who’s gone “Full Nomad” and sold everything she owned to travel the world for five years. She’s working as a digital nomad wherever there’s a reasonably decent internet connection. She’s worn hearing aids since she was two, and currently wears Phonak Naída V90-SPs.
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Steffani Cameron is a writer and photographer from Vancouver, Canada, who’s gone “Full Nomad” and sold everything she owned to travel the world for five years. She’s working as a digital nomad wherever there’s a reasonably decent internet connection. She’s worn hearing aids since she was two, and currently wears Phonak Naída V90-SPs.